The gig economy's impact on employee screening

Man wearing black shirt holding a phone, bike helmet and shopping bag with a yellow bus in the background.

Keith Rosser, director of Reed Screening, examines the growth of the gig economy and the challenges it has created for employee screening.

Keith Rosser, Director Reed Screening & Director Group Risk

You’ve probably heard the phrase gig economy a lot, but what does this mean? Broad definitions characterise it as an increase in people taking up multiple freelance or contract roles at once, rather than working for a single employer.

This is a bit simplistic though, as temporary workers, freelancers and contractors are not a new phenomenon. Two aspects tend to differentiate these emerging ‘gig’ roles: the first is that workers are often paid per item of work or project, rather than an hourly rate. The second is that many ‘gigs’ are found online or via apps – these are known as platform roles.

According to a TUC report, the gig workforce doubled in size between 2016 and 2019. There are now 4.7 million people working in the gig economy, accounting for as many as one in 10 adults, making up 9.6% of the UK workforce.

The growth of gig work will challenge many existing workplace policies and processes, which are based on longer-term and permanent roles. This includes the candidate screening process.

Why businesses must screen gig economy workers

This new way of working puts a huge amount of pressure on the employee screening process. Gig economy roles are often responses to sudden surges in demand, or to plug an urgent skills gap. These short-term positions often hire at the last minute and need jobseekers to start almost instantly.

However, many of these roles are sensitive and require the same level of screening as permanent positions. For example, you wouldn’t want a minicab driver with a history of violence, or a delivery driver who has been convicted of theft. And you’d be nervous about employing either if they have a history of driving offences.

There may be a temptation to save time and money by not screening contingent workers, but it would be a mistake. Gig workers still represent a firm’s brand, and they will be privy to some form of confidential information. Just because they may only be fulfilling one project or be part of the business for a matter of weeks, it does not mitigate their potential risk to a company.

How to vet workers in the gig economy landscape

Simply saying that screening these contingent workers is important does not provide a solution to making it happen.

Until the government successfully enacts legislation to promote digital identity, there will inevitably be some lag between hiring someone and carrying out checks. This is exacerbated if a role requires a police or DBS check, as well as Right to Work authentication, with companies at the mercy of these organisations when it comes to speed.

There are ways the best screening companies can make this process as efficient as possible. We already have various supply chain screening models in place which have saved time and money, and driven consistency and protection for clients.

For example, given the need for a rapid turnaround, most businesses cannot wait for a screening service to operate during “normal business hours”. Creating a 24/7 screening environment to reduce screening timelines, as we have done at Reed Screening, will become an increasingly vital aspect of employee checks.

Users can apply for a job via an app in the evening, screening can be carried out overnight, and a business will have information on the applicant when they arrive at work in the morning. Our 60 year heritage as the world's largest family owned recruitment business means candidate experience is at the centre of what we do.

It is this sort of measure that is required to continue to protect companies as more work becomes platform based. As has been demonstrated on numerous occasions, a failure to screen can have catastrophic consequences on a business.

If you are looking for more information about employee screening services, contact Reed Screening on 0161 244 9066.