Due to a checkerboard of regulations and fallout from the pandemic, the healthcare industry is among the most fluctuating of sectors today. For its executive leaders, that reality makes it essential to master the process around workforce background checks.

Navigating this terrain is crucial to the quality of patient care and the protection of organizational reputation. This post will chronicle the general state of the sector’s employment screening. Future posts will explore these more granular dynamics of screening applicants and/or current employees:

  • Fingerprinting and criminal history
  • Monitoring of sanctions lists
  • Ethical considerations
  • Traveling-worker credentials
  • Conditional hiring as a hedge in an uncertain environment

In large part because well-being and life itself are often at stake, healthcare background checks are among the most rigorous of those in any marketplace. The requirements vary by position, with physicians and nurses subject to greater scrutiny than support staff. A comprehensive list of positions subject to screenings can be viewed here, but the basic principles apply broadly.

Criminal history searches access records across databases in thousands of jurisdictions nationwide. In parallel, sex offender data is available from all 50 states, the territories and the District of Columbia—no small universe, given that the United States counts more than half a million registered sex offenders.

Important caveats: recordkeeping is highly imperfect, acquittals are often undocumented and employers in many states are increasingly circumscribed by ban-the-box laws. Also, employers must be cognizant of how the Fair Credit Reporting Act regulates screening processes.

A workforce sanctions list is maintained by the federal government. It records workers whose conduct has resulted in prohibitions on their receipt of federal funds—a condition that’s especially important to organizations administering programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Failing to understand medical sanctions can expose employers to fines, suspension from federal programs – and even jail time.

Drug screening is particularly important to an industry whose workers have unusual access to controlled substances, and decriminalization and legalization have complicated it. Employers are advised to consult closely with their screening providers and legal counsel on how to handle any findings.

A final note: The pandemic has resulted in the closure of many courts and schools, which can slow the verification process and might necessitate conditional hiring. For the most up-to-date status of court and lab closures and other restrictions, visit this Global HR Research page, which is updated daily.


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