The war in Ukraine has dominated the headlines for several weeks now. This war may hit closer to home for some than for others, but for many of us it does not have a day-to-day impact on our lives. This is often also true of other conflicts in the world. Think the political unrest in Venezuela, the war in Syria, the US withdrawal
from Afghanistan and subsequent collapse of the government... All of these events are multi-faceted tragedies. There is the obvious destruction and loss of life that is shown on the news. There is also disruption to everyday life in countless other ways for the people living in those regions. However, there are also other trickle-down effects that ripple through society and impact our own industry – providing people data to help businesses make more informed choices about hiring or promoting. We see this in two ways:
First, when countries are riven by conflict like the ones mentioned, it frequently becomes difficult, if not impossible, to access data from those countries. There have been challenges accessing data in Venezuela now for years due to the political unrest there. When the US withdrew from Afghanistan, accessing all types of information became impossible almost overnight. Schools and businesses close. As a result, we can’t verify information with them. Government officials are no longer working, or the entire government has collapsed making it impossible to check someone’s criminal record history. For the companies requesting these checks, and the people whose employment was contingent on this background check, these issues create a challenge. Should the employer wait until the checks can be completed? Should the candidate be brought on board pending the final results? It is almost always impossible to know when the situation on the ground will return to enough normalcy to conduct these checks. It might be weeks or months but could also take years at which point the employee may already have left the company.
There is also a second way that war and strife impacts background screening. As much as there always seems to be conflict somewhere, there are also always refugees when there is conflict. People may have different perceptions of who refugees are, but they are almost always people that have fled danger of some kind, usually with very little notice, to try to escape to safety. They probably grabbed whatever money or valuables they could, packed the bags they could carry and left as quickly as possible. According to some estimates, over 3 million people have fled Ukraine in less than a month. The UN High Commission on Refugees estimates that there are over 26 million total refugees in the world. These people come from every walk of life, but all face challenges in rebuilding a new life somewhere else. Securing a job is central to that rebuilding, but what happens to these people when they try to find a job in their adopted country? Many of us have probably read stories of refugees who had professional careers in their home country but end up working low-wage jobs or doing gig work. There are many reasons for this, and diving into this is not the point of this article. However, when these refugees do apply for a job, at whatever level it might be, they may be confronted with challenges. It could be language challenges, lack of familiarity with background screening in general, or an inability to provide documentation such as copies of degrees or other paperwork.
At the end of the day, everything discussed presents complex challenges without easy answers. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t steps that can be taken to reduce the negative impact of these situations. Here are a few steps you can take:
- Provide clear, well-written documentation and instructions. Frequently, our documentation and instructions are written quickly, from the perspective of someone familiar with the process. We need to approach this task from the eyes of someone who is unfamiliar with background screening, and who may not have a perfect command of English. This will help reduce friction in the process and help prevent delays.
- Make sure that your global screening provider has a strong network that can keep you up to date on the impact of these conflicts so that you can help your end users make informed decisions about how to proceed with candidates whose backgrounds may be difficult to verify.
- Consider alternate screening options. For example, if conducting a criminal search in a country becomes impossible, you may want to instead switch to a sanctions or adverse media search for that country. While those options are not as robust as regular criminal searches, sometimes we need to adapt to the situation on the ground. This change could be made for a specific time period, and then reviewed with regular frequency, e.g., for the next 2 months we will conduct sanctions searches for Ukraine and will review this policy in 2 months’ time to see if it should revert or not.
These actions won’t fix all the challenges created by global conflicts, but they can at least help to minimize the impact on the background screening process. And ultimately, it’s important to remember that for all the conversation about this process, there is actually a real person who is being directly impacted by how we manage this process.