Should I Conduct Background Checks For Potential Hires?

More often than not, I run across dentists complaining about their new hires' performance. When asked how the reference checks went prior to offering the new employees jobs, the dentist will respond sheepishly that this was not done. The reasons that reference checks were not done run the gamut of "the office was too busy and I needed someone immediately" to "the person seemed so sincere and trustworthy."
Reference checks should always be done on each applicant that one is considering hiring. With that said, we get to the more detailed investigation, that of background checks.
There will always be some dishonest people seeking employment. The job of the employer is to discover false or incomplete information given on the job application so that the dishonest person is not offered employment. The first step in securing a worthy employee is to have a thorough, well written job application. This application form can be useful not only in finding out the applicant's past experience, but can also serve as an informational tool that allows the applicant to understand the basic terms and conditions of the job he/she is seeking. The job application can also serve as a consent form in order to obtain reference checks and background information. When giving the person your application form, impress upon him/her the importance of being as accurate and truthful as possible. Application fraud, or resume fraud, is a serious offense, and dishonesty is justification for firing. In other words, discovering after the fact that a false application was submitted is cause for dismissal.
The need to investigate a potential hire is legitimate, but the employer must be careful not to infringe on the applicants legal right to privacy. The best way to circumvent privacy issues is to only pursue background information that is directly related to the person's job. Inform the applicant, within the job application, that part of the hiring process is to request information from a variety of sources that could include schools, former employers, credit reporting agencies and law enforcement agencies. Have the applicant sign a consent form as part of the hiring process. The consent form can be a part of the application or a separate form.
There is a federal law called the Fair Credit Reporting Act or FCRA that imposes strict rules on the use of "consumer reports" which includes background checks. The FCRA stipulates that in order to use a report, it must be prepared by a consumer reporting agency; meaning a business that assembles reports for other businesses.
For example, when hiring an office manager with fiduciary responsibilities, it may be prudent to perform a credit check. If the dentist uses a credit bureau to obtain the applicant's credit payment record, this would be covered under the FCRA. One might think that credit history is not relevant to employment, but when dealing with an employee who will be responsible for managing the dental office's finances, hiring an employee that has difficulty keeping personal finances in the black may not be the best choice for the job. Also, if a person is in debt, they may be more prone to skim money from the dental coffers. Embezzlement is an unfortunate, but fairly common problem that occurs in dental offices. I personally have known three dentists that unknowingly employed an embezzler.
Another background check that may be performed is the inquiry regarding criminal history. Be mindful that asking about an arrest record is a subtle form of discrimination since oftentimes arrest charges are found to be without merit and dropped. Conviction records however can be used to rule out applicants as long as the conviction has a correlation with the job being sought.
As said earlier, include written information with the application that notifies the potential hire of consumer report inquiries for employment purposes. Written permission is a requirement in obtaining consumer reports. Any agency that prepares a report for the employer will require that the dentist certifies that he/she is complying with the federal law and that the information received will not be used in violation of state and federal equal employment opportunity laws.
Upon receipt of the report, particular rules apply if the dentist decides not to hire the employee based on the report results. Before informing the employee that he/she will not be hired, a dentist must give disclosure regarding his/her decision. The disclosure should include a copy of the consumer report and a copy of "A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act." This is a publication written by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The dentist can obtain a copy of this publication either by visiting the FTC's website at or by asking the business who prepared the consumer report to send a copy. Once both reports are given to the potential hire, or even an existing employee, the dentist can notify the person that he/she will not be hiring the applicant (or firing an existing employee). The notification can be written, verbal, or even by e-mail.
Also note, when informing the person that you will not be employing him/her, or terminating a current employee, a dentist must inform the person of the credit reporting agency (CRA), including name, address and phone number of the agency and also state that the CRA did not have any decision making abilities regarding the employee's hiring outcome as well as the CRA is unable to give specific reasons for the dentist's decision. The applicant, or employee, has the right to disagree with the accuracy of the report prepared by the CRA and an additional copy may be obtained from the CRA, at no additional charge within 60 days.
The employer must perform the above steps in order to avoid legal trouble.
This seems like a lot of work. And, as I've written in other articles, when the work performed up front during the hiring process is thorough, problem are few later. Performing a background check, although laborious, is an important, albeit optional, tool that protects the dental office from future problems with a dishonest person seeking employment.