With ONS figures reporting that about 4.8 million UK workers are self-employed, contractors now make up a large part of the workforce. While most organizations have very robust programmes for background checking employees, the pre-employment screening process for contractors can often leave a lot to be desired. This is a legacy of the past where contractors were few and far between, but lax pre-employment screening processes for contractor leaves your clients, suppliers and employees at risk because potentially 15% of your work-force may be now be unscreened.
So, what approach should employers take to background checking contractors? Below we have listed the various types of background checks that should be performed on contractors.
Online Freelancer Profile
Many contractors also work on freelance gig sites like Upwork and Freelancer.com, which can be a great medium to background check contractors. Ask your contractor candidate if they are a member of these sites and, if they are, join the site as a client, with no obligation to purchase, and you can then review this contractor’s profile and work history.
All service providers on the site have a freelance profile and a formal performance rating. This is a little bit like an employment reference and clients can scrutinize this before engaging with a supplier on the site. This freelancer score is amalgamation of the scores that freelancer has received on all the paid projects they have completed on Upwork, with an audit trail sometimes going back several years. Client’s can drill down to check individual client reviews and scores for each job. It’s not easy to game these systems, (in fact, it’s very hard as these sites are procedure driven and closely monitored), and so they are a fairly reliable form of contractor performance reference.
A typical employment reference may prove unsuitable for contractors given their relatively fragmented and informal working history. Background checks should still be possible as most good contractors will be able to supply you with client testimonials and details of formers clients, (who will vouch for their competency and character), and you should demand as such before engaging them.
Public Liability Insurance
This provides financial cover for the contractor if they cause physical injury or damage to property in the course of their work. While there is no legal requirement to hold this insurance, if your contractor has their own business premises or attends your business premises, it would be reasonable and prudent for you to make an active liability insurance policy a condition of their contract. As part of your background checks you should ask to see evidence of this insurance.
The following checks, which may also be suitable for contractors, are likely to vary epending on the nature of the assignment, client and work being performed.
Integrity Checks (DBS, Credit Check, Anti-money laundering etc...)
If criminal background checks are considered mandatory for an employee they should be mandatory for any contractor doing the job too. If you are using contractors to work on projects containing sensitive data, such as in financial services, then not only might a DBS check be relevant but a financial history and credit rating background check might be needed too.
If your contractor is going to be doing any driving on behalf of the company, (for example, transporting people or goods or visiting client sites) then you should be doing a driving license check too.
ID and address verification may be necessary too, but if the candidate has a robust, personal and professional audit trail and/or is and is well known by trusted members of your business, this may not be necessary.
Contractors form a significant part of the typical workforce and are now performing mission-critical, important and sensitive work on a scale never before seen. As a result, they now need to be properly integrated into your pre-employment screening regime. Contractors are a unique and diverse cohort, distinct from employees, and it’s likely you’ll need to develop a flexible background checking regime that can adapt according to the circumstances of each contractor assignment.