Labor Shortages, Background Check Delays, and the Risk of Reduced Vigilance

One of the top topics of conversation in hiring is that nearly every industry is experiencing a labor shortage. The nationwide unemployment rate dropped to 

4.8 percent in September 2021, its lowest monthly figure since the start of the pandemic. Even during the depths of the pandemic, many employers were struggling to hire, and those issues aren’t going away now that unemployment is slowly trending back toward the record lows that the United States economy recorded in 2019. 

With many employers desperate for labor and background check bottlenecks still delaying hiring, what do these trends mean for employers and their hiring standards?

Background check delays were a problem for employers early in the pandemic, as courthouses shut down and services moved from in-person to virtual. Suddenly, conducting criminal history checks, verifying a candidate’s past employment and education, or completing other employee background screenings were all significantly delayed. Fortunately, some of those roadblocks have disappeared as offices reopen and public life resumes. 

In some situations, employers are still contending with background check bottlenecks and delays. 

In Kentucky, there is a legislative push underway to speed up the background check process for school districts so that schools have fewer barriers to face when hiring new teachers, bus drivers, or other employees. Kentucky’s background check process for public school employers includes fingerprinting and incorporates records searches of both the Kentucky State Police (KSP) and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS). 

The fingerprint step in particular takes time because it requires candidates to travel—sometimes significant distances—to provide their fingerprints. Those delays add time to the hiring process, which some school districts say makes it more difficult to fill open positions. 

Senate Bill 1, which recently passed the Kentucky General Assembly, could alleviate some of these background check concerns. SB1 would require KSP and CHFS to prioritize school district background checks over other record searches. The bill would change the hiring rules for school districts, enabling them to hire staff on a probationary basis pending full KSP and CHFS background checks. 

School district hires would still need to pass preliminary background checks conducted by the Administrative Office of the Courts. That process is faster and would allow school districts to get new hires into jobs more quickly.

Beyond fingerprinting, which is a notoriously slow step along the background check process, employee background screening may take longer today than it did before the pandemic. A piece published recently in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explored how the labor shortage is having a ripple effect on the background check industry. For example, some admissions offices at colleges and universities are short-staffed, which can make it more difficult for background check companies to verify degrees and other education credentials. 

Similarly, understaffed businesses or organizations might not have the HR team in place to handle calls related to employment verification checks. Courthouses might not have clerks in the office to pull records or assist with criminal background checks. The Post-Gazette story reported that criminal records are taking three days longer in 14 states—Maine is reporting an 11-day delay.

Combined with the desperation that many employers feel to fill open positions by any means necessary, these factors lead to a clear concern: What if employers stop running background checks or lower their hiring standards to solve their labor challenges?

NPR’s Scott Simon recently released a segment exploring how the current labor shortage could encourage employers to give candidates with criminal records a chance at employment. Proponents of criminal justice reform have often argued that giving ex-offenders access to gainful employment could reduce recidivism and benefit the economy.

However, employers need to stay vigilant to protect themselves, their workers, their customers, and the public from potentially dangerous, unqualified, or otherwise poor hires. Even if they take time, background checks provide information that is crucial to avoiding negligent hiring lawsuits and other consequences of hiring someone whose history may disqualify them from a position. 

At, we offer employee background screening packages and services that help employers to make the right hiring decisions. Some of those services deliver instant search results, which means no delay to the hiring process at all. Explore what we have to offer, or contact us to learn how we can help you to devise an effective background check policy for your business.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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