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March 9, 2020
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Relaxed care worker background checks considered under virus strategy

Emergency workforce plans are being made to mitigate the impact of a potential severe coronavirus outbreak on the UK social care sector, reports the Nursing Times.

Criminal record checks on former social care workers seeking to return to practice may be loosened and staff may be redeployed to areas where the impact of coronavirus is more severe.

"It must be recognised that smaller homes will be challenged in many ways"

Crystal Oldman

Yesterday, chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty confirmed to the Health and Social Care Select Committee that the UK was moving towards the second “delay” stage of the government’s virus action plan.

Without emergency measures, care homes may have to close and residents be relocated to NHS facilities, adding more pressure on overstretched services.

The Department of Health and Social Care has asked providers if background checks might impede emergency care plans, according to reports in the Guardian newspaper, which were not disputed by the government.

Workers who have recently left work or retired and whose background checks have expired as a result may be allowed back to work during a coronavirus outbreak without having to wait for several weeks for approval.

Background checks include enhanced criminal record bureau (CRB) checks, also known as a disclosure and barring service (DBS) check.

As many social care workers may become unable to work due to sickness or self-isolation, the government is also asking care providers to consider staff redeployment.

In preparation for an outbreak, nursing homes and care home operators may also have to pool carers in areas where there is the most need.

Dr Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, said the charity was concerned about potentially removing background checks, and a full risk assessment would be needed in the meantime for such workers.

“The department should be including social care providers in every aspect of the planning"

Martin Green

Regarding redeployment, she added: “It may be possible for larger care home providers to support this approach, but I think it must be recognised that smaller homes will be challenged in many ways to provide the care needed in the event of the anticipated numbers of people (both residents and carers) who will contract the coronavirus."

Martin Green, chief executive of charity Care England, said it was vital that the social care sector was given the same support in regards to the coronavirus outbreak as the NHS.

He said: “The Department of Health and Social Care should be including social care providers in every aspect of the planning, and anything, such as procurement of drugs, goods, and services that might be required for the NHS should also include social care providers.

“This is an opportunity for the Department of Health and Social Care to show that it's not only its name that has changed, but its attitude to how it plans and delivers in a crisis.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The UK is extremely well prepared for these types of outbreaks and Public Health England has issued tailored guidance for care providers setting out action to be taken in a variety of circumstances."

The department is working with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, the Local Government Association and Care Provider's Alliance to plan with both local authorities and other care providers to prepare for the event of a more serious outbreak.

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March 3, 2020
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What does IR35 mean for background screening?

When it comes to the upcoming changes to IR35 legislation, worker status should not be the only thing on employers’ minds. They also need to consider how any changes could impact background screening, says Personnel Today's Caroline Smith.

While the ins and outs of IR35 are hotly debated, many companies, including some large UK-based multinational banks, have already opted for a cautious approach, making public their decision to move away from engaging with contractors through personal service companies (PSCs).

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For some organisations, this may mean their HR team is frantically completing the necessary paperwork to turn all of their contract roles into PAYE positions on their company payroll before the legislation comes into force for private sector employers in April.

But in order for this to happen, the contractors first need to agree to their new terms of employment, which may not be favourable for them, particularly regarding tax and NICs.

Many companies may also be reluctant to commit to bringing their contractors in as employees, especially if they make up a significant proportion of their workforce.

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This could have significant repercussions for their business, including increased overheads, additional HR resource required to support new employees, new equipment needing to be bought and NICs to be paid by the company for the new workers.

However, the situation is being addressed by the companies affected, it’s important to consider the impact IR35 may have on an employer’s background screening programme.

What’s the difference?

From a legal standpoint, in the UK there are a few key differences between a contractor and an employee.

These include mutuality of obligation (whereby contractors are not required to accept or to be offered work), control (contractors will probably have freedom over the hours they work and set their own schedule) and substitution (when a contractor could hire someone in their own right or get someone else to do the work).

However, in reality, many businesses may have employees and contractors conducting identical roles for their company.

Yet, the background screening process that contractors go through may be less stringent than that of an employee. This could be for a number of reasons, such as:

  • The contractor is needed for an urgent project and the company does not have time to process a full background check before they can start.
  • The contractor may have refused certain employment checks as completing them may have made their role seem more like that of an employee and not a contractor with possible tax implications.
  • To reduce HR admin around the screening process.
  • The contractor may only be engaged on a short-term basis and so it is not considered cost-effective to conduct a full background screening.
  • The role is working remotely so the perceived risk is less than an employee based in the office.
  • The company that the contractor works for conducts their own background screening process that is less rigorous that the company’s own policy.
  • The contractor is not a fixed person (for example, a company is contracted to complete the work, but a number of individuals may be sent by the company to complete this work over time).

Assessing the risk

Many companies already use a risk matrix to assess the level of background screening that is proportionate for their workforce.

A risk matrix can be used to split workers into a number of different categories depending on the perceived level of risk, with those in senior positions or with access to financial information typically being screened more rigorously than those in entry-level jobs.

However, contractor roles are not always included in this risk matrix, meaning that existing contractors may have only been subject to a minimal background check, or possibly no check at all.

It’s an area to review, particularly when considering that many contract roles are well-paid highly-skilled specialist roles where the individuals are immediately placed in positions of trust, potentially with access to confidential company information.

Arguably, contract workers could pose a greater threat to a business than its employees do as they are often working independently and unsupervised and could even be contracting for a direct competitor of theirs.

It is advisable to assess the risk of each worker based on their job role, seniority and what is legally permissible and proportionate to screen, not based solely on whether they are an employee or a contractor.

This will help ensure that background screening processes are sufficient to mitigate against the risk that each worker brings to a business.

Background screening and IR35

For companies looking to add current contractors to their payroll and who already conduct pre-employment screening on their new hires, now is the time to think about how to manage this process for soon-to-be employees and how to introduce them to background screening if they’ve not had a background check before.

Given that the legislation around IR35 is due to be implemented (for private sector companies) on 6  April, employers have quite a narrow window to go through the necessary process to transition their freelance workforce to PAYE employees (if this is the path they choose to go down), and also to conduct any pre-employment screening that is needed to ensure that their new employees are screened to an equivalent standard as their existing staff.

If your business currently hires contractors and is going to be affected by IR35, you should consider getting in touch with your background screening provider to discuss how they can support your changing screening needs.

This can help to ensure that your old contractors have all had their information verified to your company’s employment standards before bringing them on board, helping to mitigate your people risk before bringing potentially thousands of new people onto your company’s payroll.

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March 2, 2020
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Inside the Statehouse: Experts say 'ban the box bill' could improve eviction rate and help with homelessness

The affordable housing crisis is difficult for everyone -- but it's especially hard on those with criminal histories, since finding a place to rent can sometimes feel next to impossible. Housing experts say Idahoans with criminal convictions are facing eviction crises at alarming rates.

But the Fair Chance Employment Act, Senate Bill 1318, could potentially change that.

Also called the "ban the box bill," it's legislation that would prohibit employers from asking about criminal records until the applicant is given an interview or conditional offer of employment.

At Monday's public Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, 17 people testified in favor of S.B. 1318, and just one person against. That person was Fred Birnbaum of Idaho Freedom Foundation, who expressed the foundation's concerns that the bill would bring potential crime into the workplace.

"Why do you commit crime in the first place?" said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge (R-Huston). "And then you come back and want individual businesses to make a choice to help you."

Despite expressing concerns, Lodge ultimately voted to endorse the bill. The decision was unanimous among lawmakers on the committee.

"The cards are really stacked against people when they exit the criminal justice system," said Ali Rabe, executive director, Jesse Tree of Idaho. "And it got unanimous support, so that's really exciting!"

Housing and homelessness stakeholders are some of the foremost supporters of this bill. Rabe runs a local nonprofit that helps people who are in danger of being evicted to stay in their homes.

"We've talked to 826 households over the last several months, and 289 of those households -- so about 35 percent -- are formerly incarcerated, and they're being evicted due to employment related issues," said Rabe.

If they are evicted, that often makes their reputations even worse to potential landlords.

"When somebody has not only an incarceration record, but an eviction record, the cards are double-stacked against them when they're applying for housing," said Rabe. "In this market, there's so much demand for housing, people [with prior criminal convictions] are not really likely to get housing," said Rabe.

So, she says, if this bill is signed into law --

"That will allow them to pay their bills on time, stay in housing, and it will reduce eviction and homelessness in our community," said Rabe.

S.B. 1318 now heads to the full Senate. 6 On Your Side will keep you updated.

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