The pandemic has upended employment across the country, leaving millions of people jobless and forcing millions more to work from home.
The pandemic also has upended many of the usual rules for hiring employees, making hiring more often a virtual event and raising a raft of challenges and concerns for both the hirer and the hiree.
“Everybody kind of had to turn on a dime back in March of last year,” said Greta Engle, vice president for employee benefits for the USI Insurance Services, in Hunt Valley. “Hiring somebody over a computer screen is, in fact, very different than in person. Both on the candidate’s end and the corporate end, the level of energy seems to exceed what you experience in person.”
Engle was just one of several human resources professionals in Maryland who agreed that the coronavirus has altered the hiring process for employers and employees alike.
Christine Walters, an independent consultant for FiveL Company, a Westminster-based company that provides human resources and employment law consulting to businesses, said the increased use of remote hiring has both advantages and disadvantages.
On the one hand, virtual interviews can take less time than face-to-face interviews and reduce costs as well — plus more people are looking for work.
On the other hand, she said, the interview process has its pitfalls. And once a new candidate is hired the paperwork and orientation required are often more difficult. More applicants might not mean more qualified applicants.
Walters listed a number of other pandemic-related concerns that have come up in the hiring process. They include:
- whether to require a new hire be vaccinated for COVID-19;
- whether to require a new hire to be tested for COVID-19 – and have a negative result;
- for employees who work remotely, whether business expenses such as higher costs for printer ink cartridge or cable/internet fee hikes will be covered;
- what should or should not be required of remote employees in terms of safety precautions and what will and will not be covered in case of an accident on the job;
- and how should hourly employees keep track of time spent working.
Dealing with increased numbers of remote employees also poses security problems, said Engle of USI. Employers, she warned, should make sure all of the employee’s private networks have the best firewall protection.
“You don’t want any client or proprietary information getting hacked, and I think hackers are really enjoying this” increase in remote working, she said.
Another tricky question employers now face is the need for remote employees to comply with federal laws regarding the workplace, such as the Americans With Disabilities Act. “Even though they’re working remotely, there are certain people who need certain accommodations,” Engle said.
Jenny Meetre, CEO of Power3 Solutions, a Columbia consulting company that provides business services to clients, including advice on how to recruit during the pandemic, said remote hiring poses problems both legal and technical.
Some companies, Meetre said, have added measures to verify identity and manage the interview process, such as making sure they have permission to record video of the interview.
One challenge remote interviewers face is creating a personable connection with the candidate, Meetre said, “because it’s not as rich of a medium as in-person.”
Such interviews, she said, also can lead to unexpected difficulties, such as several people speaking at once, awkward pauses, and interviews disrupted by children or pets.
Occasionally, remote hiring can lead to more serious problems.
“The biggest hazard we’ve encountered is a fraudulent person who lied about their identity and was provided a company laptop that gave them access to internal protected data,” Meetre said.
Kimberly N. Prescott, president of Prescott HR Inc., in Columbia, agreed that hiring remotely can be a challenge.
“When you’re in person with someone, you’re able to read body language, build a different level of rapport than you’re able to do with someone on a screen or on the phone,” she said. “You really don’t get a true feel for someone in a remote environment.”
She said organizations should consider restructuring their interview process – having more than one person conduct the interview, for example.
Just as important, Prescott said, employers have to make sure their hiring process is open to everyone who might want want to apply.
“Some people have limited access to the internet, to computers, and even the libraries are closed now,” she said. “How are you going to get those people to apply? These are things organizations are having to think through.”
One option is to make applications more mobile-friendly, Prescott said, since just about everyone has a smartphone.
In at least one respect, Prescott said, hiring during the pandemic is not unlike it was in the pre-pandemic days:
Employers have to do reference checks, background checks, job verification checks. Job applicants, meanwhile, should research the employers, look up whether they are part of the Better Business Bureau, check for scam reports.
“Either way, you have to do your due diligence,” she said. “That doesn’t change.”