Rehiring Employees After COVID Cutbacks

Matt Jaye


March 1, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to close their doors and lay off or furlough employees. As these businesses begin to reopen or ramp back up, however, they face a new challenge: rebuilding their workforces quickly and safely. As organizations seek out needed talent, they can either hire new staff or bring back employees who were previously laid off or furloughed. While hiring new people offers the opportunity to bring new skills and knowledge into the organization, rehiring allows employers to welcome back employees who are already familiar with the organization’s processes, people and culture. In making these assessments, organizations should consider the time, money and legal implications of hiring versus rehiring.

Financial Implications and Background Screening

Because of the cost of recruiting, it is typically more expensive to hire new employees than to rehire former employees. Recruitment teams can make direct contact with former employees at no cost. By contrast, the Society of Human Resources Management reported that the average cost to recruit a new hire is $4,129. In addition to direct costs for job posting and recruiter fees, there is also the cost of time in sourcing, interviewing and selecting potential employees from a pool of candidates. Former employees, on the other hand, comprise a ready pool of candidates whose qualifications are already known and proven.

There is also the cost of background screening to consider. For most organizations, conducting a background check is one of the final steps in the hiring process, and according to the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA), 94% of employers conduct background screening for new hires. These screenings typically include a few core elements: a criminal records search, a Social Security number trace to confirm identity, and verification of education and employment history. In regulated industries like health care, transportation and financial services, a background check will likely also include a professional license search, employment sanctions check and drug screening.

Though organizations may have a standard process for pre-hire employment screening, pandemic-related workforce reductions have created a new opportunity to reconsider how to return employees to the workplace safely. Laid-off and furloughed employees were recently active employees, yet their employment eligibility could have changed in the time they were away from the workforce. Therefore, to proceed safely and comply with legal and industry requirements, organizations should have clear policies and practices for rescreening former employees.

Key Considerations for Rescreening Employees

Although former employees are not “new” in the same sense as entirely new hires, screening them can provide many of the same benefits as pre-hire background screening of unknown candidates. By understanding the latest developments in former employees’ backgrounds, employers can avoid making risky hiring decisions and stay well-informed about their workforce.

Employees returning to work after a COVID-related workforce reduction may have been away from the workplace for weeks or months. In that time, they could have engaged in activities impacting their rehire eligibility, such as criminal activity or illegal drug use. A study conducted by Case Western Reserve University found that employees experienced an overall 20% increase in criminal charge rates in the year after a layoff, and saw an increased rate of violent traffic offenses and drug-related activity.

Organizations also need to be aware of potential issues with recently-lapsed licenses or certifications, as well as new professional complaints, reprimands or probations. Though furloughed and laid-off employees are known to employers, their actions while away from the workplace may not be, and rescreening can fill these gaps.

Choosing when to rescreen returning employees—and with what combination of background screening methods—depends on various factors, including industry, role within the organization and the length of time away from the workplace.

Though rescreening can be beneficial in any industry, it is a legal requirement in some. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General requires health care employers to routinely check exclusion and sanction lists to avoid individuals who have been barred from health care employment. In those cases, former employees with direct patient access should be rescreened to avoid the penalties of regulatory noncompliance.

The length of time since they were employed by the organization can also help determine whom to screen again. Employees who were laid off or furloughed for several months might have had the time to take temporary employment or engage in activities that may impact their eligibility for rehire, while those who were only absent for a couple of weeks may be deemed lower risk. Employers will need to establish a policy and cutoff date for when returning employees should be rescreened.

Rescreening former employees does not require organizations to spend the same amount of time and money as they would for pre-hire background screening of new candidates. Some of the key steps organizations must take when creating and implementing a plan for rescreening former employees include:

1. Assess Organization and Industry Requirements

Employers already know former employees’ identities, educational backgrounds, and their educational and employment history. Instead of conducting screening in those areas, rescreen in areas more relevant to employee rehire eligibility. For example:

  • Employment sanctions or exclusions
  • Criminal history
  • License activity, such as suspensions, revocations or other disciplinary action
  • Drug screening

2. Involve Key Stakeholders

The decision to rescreen returning employees should not be taken lightly. With the involvement of key stakeholders in human resources, legal and compliance, organizations can determine policies and rescreening parameters for the returning workforce. Background screening providers can also provide assistance in developing expedient and cost-effective plans to help manage rehiring risk.

3. Review and Revise Existing Policies

Comprehensive policies can help guide future hiring practices and also bring consistency to the overall background screening process. By reviewing existing hiring policies and revising them to include rules for rescreening former employees, organizations can clarify the rehiring process for all relevant for all involved. This will allow organizations to better manage hiring risks and get on the road to recovery more quickly.

Matt Jaye is vice president of business development at Corporate Screening.