Contractor screening

Contractors are typically used by businesses to provide a variety of high-end, specialist services. As such, many of them enjoy significant levels of access to critical systems, assets and data. Yet, despite this, they’re not always subjected to the rigorous checks (pre- or post-employment) that a full-time employee might be.

The reasons for this potential oversight vary. There’s the usual challenge of not wanting the expense of screening someone who doesn’t really work for you, especially if you only plan to engage them on a short-term basis. When a contractor comes from another business (as opposed to being self-employed), screening might be thought of as someone else’s responsibility. Or, where a contractor has been in place for a significant period of time or is held in particularly high regard, we sometimes hear that continued monitoring might not feel appropriate.

Whatever the reason (or excuse), the fact remains that contractors can hold privileged positions within your business. Due to their specialised skills, they might even have more access to your data than a regular employee. Nevertheless, they’re unlikely to have the same loyalty to the business that a full employee hopefully has. Remembering that contractors are employed to get in, do a job and then get out again, you can’t always assume that they have your business’ best interests at heart.

Based on the risk this presents, contractors should be subjected to as much background screening as any equivalent employee – or maybe even more.

Plenty of contractors and their agencies appreciate this and now have screening processes of their own in place to proactively head off any concerns before they arise (although you may still want to audit how thorough these processes are). However, where no such processes exist, you should be aware that screening a contractor does present certain challenges.

That’s because some of the questions that can be asked of a payrolled employee don’t necessarily work when posed to a contractor, for several reasons. They may work piecemeal across different contracts for example; they might use an umbrella organisation for financial purposes; they might be a sole trader or a limited company; they may work through a third party. While some checks – such as confirming identity or someone’s right to work in the country – remain straightforward, these additional considerations– can complicate the process of establishing employment history, references (who have they worked for?) or their financial background.

Recently, the rise of the gig economy has begun to further muddy the waters when thinking about appropriate levels of screening. That’s because the increased popularity of this type of working can result in highly skilled contractors engaging with your business on a very temporary basis and lower skilled temp workers being engaged as self-employed contractors.

However, regardless of what we might call these workers or how they enter your business, one point remains constant. In addressing all the employment considerations mentioned above, the trick lies in having a screening process flexible enough to account for the subtle employment differences created by working as a contractor. Quite simply, you have to think of them very differently to your traditional employees.