It Can Happen Again – Soon. The Government Shutdown and Background Checks

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The partial government shutdown had a significant effect on thousands of individuals and even trickled down to produce a profound effect on the background check process as well as other areas of HR. While a stopgap funding measure ended the longest U.S. government shutdown in history, the threat of another shutdown remains: The president is quoted as saying that he may shut down the government again on February 15. Here is what HR professionals faced for 35 days – and may face again.

Forearmed is forewarned.

I-9 and E-Verify

When the government shut downs, E-Verify, the online system that enables organizations to verify a new hire’s eligibility to work, becomes unavailable. When the recent shutdown began in December, users of E-Verify’s website received a notice that read, “NOTICE: Due to the lapse in federal funding, this website will not be actively managed. E-Verify and E-Verify services are unavailable.” Employers had no access to the system and could not:

  • Enroll in E-Verify
  • Open a new case
  • See or take action on any case
  • Add, delete or edit a user account
  • Change passwords

Other functions and services including webinars, email and telephone support, and resolving Tentative Noncomfirmations (TNCs) were also down.

To ease the burden on employers, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which governs E-Verify, suspended the three-day rule for creating E-Verify cases, and extended the number of days an employee needs to resolve TNCs.

Note however that requirements for Form I-9 were not affected. Organizations still had to complete a Form I-9 no later than the third business day after an employee started work for pay, and comply with all other regulations regarding Form I-9.

In the event another shutdown occurs, HireRight will notify and update its customers of any changes impacting our service delivery.

Learn More About Form 1-9 and E-Verify

Impairing the Ability for Job Seekers to Pass Background Checks

Background checks themselves are also being affected during shutdowns. And while a federal shutdown, meant missed paychecks for more than 800,000 government workers, it also threatened a multitude of workers in other government entities as well as private companies that do business with affected agencies.

Municipalities, including Greensboro, North Carolina, could not officially hire new employees without conducting federal background checks. This impacted police, firefighters, lifeguards and other departments.

Consider the federal employee who, struggling to make ends meet without a paycheck, tried to get another job and needed to pass a simple background check. Previous employment could not be verified if their previous employer – the federal government agency – is shut down. Nor could references be checked. The IRS website to which Consumer Reporting Agencies such as HireRight refer applicants to obtain transcripts for employment verification when they are unable to provide W2 documentation was not functional since the shutdown began in December.

As reported in the January 22 New York Times, federal employees with no job to go to sought income working for Uber or Lyft, substitute teaching, babysitting, or any number of other “improvised jobs or side hustles.” Making the struggle even harder was the fact that Federal workers “are limited in the type of work they can take as they wait out the shutdown. Anything connected to an employee’s area of expertise is unlikely to be allowed under federal rules, which require approval for jobs that could conflict with government work.”

Not just Federal Employees are being Affected

While federal employees will be compensated for lost paychecks once the shutdown ends, contractors may not be. And there are approximately four million federal contract workers, twice the number of federal civilian employees. The exact number of those individuals is difficult to calculate since the government does not maintain records on them and companies are often reluctant to talk about contract work for competitive reasons. Services make up 80% of federal contract dollars and within this segment, security guards comprise the largest group.

As of this writing, there is an agreement to re-open the government for three weeks–until February 15–so budget negotiations can continue. Beyond that date, it’s uncertain which government entities will be operational. What is certain is that employers and employees alike will be glad to get back to business as usual. If another shutdown goes into effect, organizations may consider the impact on their hiring and background check processes, and plan accordingly.

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Lewis Lustman

Lewis Lustman is a content marketer who enjoys developing materials that engage, inform, challenge, and hopefully entertain my audience. Lewis is a former journalist for Los Angeles Magazine and the Los Angeles Times, and has worked for a number of leading advertising, marketing, technology, and PR firms over the years. Interested in a topic that he hasn't yet tackled? Drop him a line in the comments section!

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