The pandemic has changed how we look at employment in the United States in a multitude of ways. Many of us now “telecommute” to work, which opens up the opportunity to live farther from the office than ever before. Young people have new and different considerations and priorities when it comes to accepting a job. And of course, there’s the fact that it is increasingly more difficult to recruit and retain good long-term employees. Complicating these issues specifically in our industry are the pesky and sometimes misunderstood background check requirements.
So, what are background checks? Put simply, they are research and “vetting” screens for employment. A person who applies for a job gives his potential employer permission to conduct a background check which researches various databases for criminal convictions of any kind. It sounds pretty simple, but the information comes from a wide variety of source databases which often don’t communicate with each other. Thus, a criminal conviction in Utah might not show up in an Ohio based database. Background checks have to thoroughly check many different places before they can send a report that assures a company that a person is eligible to work.
The process is rather complicated. In some states, there are multiple types –often called “levels”—of background check. One particular level of check might be slightly less thorough or rigorous than another. Further complicating the issue is the fact that these background checks are STATE standards-- often requirements that are part of state DME licensure. So, each state has its own standards, rules, and requirements. In some cases, rules went into place in a given year and employees who were already onboard with an organization were grandfathered in and the organization does not have to conduct background checks on this group of employees. National and regional businesses must be compliant in all their branches and must be mindful in branches where the employees cover a territory that includes parts of multiple states.
In most cases, the background check requirement is simply done at hire. However, in some cases, organizations are responsible for ongoing monitoring. A good example of this is the Office of Inspector General (OIG) Exclusion List, which we discussed in last month’s blog.
The principle of doing background checking comes from a very good place: that an organization should find out about a person’s background prior to hiring and onboarding them into the organization. Offers of employment should be contingent on a successful, “clean” background check and screening. Keep in mind that some states allow employees to work provisionally until the results of the background check comes back.
HQAA’s requirement with regards to background checks is straightforward. HR 4, the “BACKGROUND CHECK” standard states: “As mandated by state requirements when the organization has administrative offices or provides services, the organization conducts criminal background checks for employment. The checks ensure that no candidate is hired who could put the client or their personal financial data at risk”. An organization must comply with state guidelines and conduct background checks compliant with state law and regulation. Absent state regulation, an organization may conduct background checks per their own policy & procedure. When doing this, organizations should consult with their lawyer to ensure they are following legal and nondiscriminatory pathways.
When seeking accreditation, expect that your policy on background checks will be scrutinized. With HQAA, organizations are asked to submit their policy on background checks and should expect surveyors to ask about the policy during the site visit. Additionally, the surveyors will look at the background checks in the personnel files of applicable employees. It’s important to note that HQAA does not require background checks. They simply require that you follow state and federal law; so, if there’s a law on the books about background checks in your state, you need to follow it. You also have to be compliant with your company’s own policy and procedure. Thus, if you have a policy that mandates background checks, HQAA expects you to follow that policy across the board.
If you have doubts or questions about background checks in your state, simply check the standards and conditions of participation with your state’s HME or DME license. If you cover multiple state jurisdictions, be sure to check the other state’s laws as well. The Palmetto GBA website is a good place to research what specific government agency oversees a given state’s licensing.
Think of background checks as another layer of protection: Protection from liability, protection from onboarding a potentially problematic employee, protection from making a mistake that could cost you money, time, and energy down the road. Conduct these checks in accordance with state regulations to remain compliant with the standards, but also for the peace of mind a clean background check will give you for a new employee.