Do I Need to Do a Background Check When Hiring for My Practice?
JoAn Majors — professional speaker, author, and host of the SpouseTales dental podcast — holds Mondays “sacred.”
She says it’s the only day she gets to set aside as free from duties at her husband Chuck’s dental office, where she serves as office manager. But, plan as she might, one particular Monday was derailed in a shocking and unforgettable way.
She and Chuck were getting ready for their day with the local news playing in the background when a story caught their attention. “A local woman was arrested over the weekend with enough methamphetamine to be charged with intent to distribute,” said the news anchor.
The story itself wasn’t the problem, disturbing as it may have been. For Chuck and JoAn, however, the issue was their proximity to this story. Glancing up at the screen, Majors saw an image that promised to demolish her day-off plans — the lead dental assistant at her husband’s practice peered back at her from the screen, now a publicly accused drug user and potential drug dealer.
Don’t Get Caught Off Guard
Though it’s not possible to prepare yourself for every unwelcome surprise that might come your way from your employees, it’s fairly simple to prevent major problems by doing your due diligence upfront.
Many of the issues that can pop up during employment — such as an employee’s criminal history, misinformation provided on their employment application, and former credit issues — are totally discoverable by employers who are willing to take the necessary step to uncover them..
And, in the dental and medical industries, in which employees have near-constant access to things like prescription pads, controlled substances, cash deposits, and patients’ financial and Protected Health Information (PHI), this step in the hiring process is especially important.
Negligent Hiring Lawsuits
If it can be demonstrated that an employer failed to make “reasonable” inquiries into an applicant’s background before they were offered a position, that employer can be held responsible for any unlawful or improper actions by that employee.
The majority of negligent hiring lawsuits — which can easily result in judgments in the seven-figure range — can be avoided by performing an initial inquiry into things like criminal record history, employment verification, and credit information.
Failing to perform those checks consistently with each new hire can result in hiring someone with a history of nefarious behavior, which can come back to bite you down the road.
Can’t I just Google them/check into their social media accounts?
Short answer: No!
It’s generally not a good idea to do your own informal “research” into candidates online, as doing so could make it much easier for individuals who are denied a position to claim that your decision not to hire them was discriminatory.
By looking into candidates on your own, there’s a strong possibility that you will find out information about a candidate that is illegal for you to use when making a hiring or firing decision. Such information can include the candidate’s race, age, religion, national origin, family status, and/or veteran status, all of which can constitute protected classes according to local, state, and federal laws.
Even if you decide not to hire that candidate for a perfectly legal reason, like a racist post, if there is a pregnancy announcement right below it, it will be very difficult to prove that your decision was based on a legal reason rather than illegal discrimination. In other words, it is best to shield your eyes from protected information that you cannot legally consider by letting professionals conduct the background check on your behalf.
The same is true when it comes to a candidate’s criminal history. You might find negative information about a person that would have been required to be left out of a background report by law and would therefore be illegal to use in your decision-making process.
Searching online for information about a candidate can also lead to the discovery of incorrect or inaccurate information. For example, you may mistakenly associate a criminal conviction for a person who is not your candidate but has the same name as that candidate, or you may illegally associate the record of an arrest with that of a conviction, which are completely different under the law.
Background Checks and the FCRA
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) limits the type of information that can be included in consumer reports. It also mandates that individuals give consent before a background check can be conducted and gives those individuals the option to dispute incomplete or inaccurate information contained in a background check.
If you plan to run a background check on an applicant, you must first get consent to do so from the candidate. You must also give the candidate an opportunity to dispute negative information contained in that report which might be inaccurate or incorrect. Further, certain states and localities have additional requirements with respect to how employers can obtain consent to run a background check, what can be included in that background check, and how candidates must be notified after the check is complete.
That said, your employees are not likely to have the opportunity to dispute the information you discover if you acquire it through an informal search. Outdated information is also legally supposed to be excluded from consumer reports — a function not supported by an internet that never forgets.
Long Story Short: Use a Professional Background Check Company
To protect yourself from the potential harm that could come from making a poor hire, as well as the harm that could occur should you try to perform informal research on your own, use a professional background check company to make sure that you are getting the information you need, and that you are getting it legally.
The level of background check you need is likely to vary based on the position you’re hiring for but, at a minimum, you’ll want to perform a professional social security trace, criminal record search, and a verification of employment and education for each new hire you bring on board. We would also recommend a credit check, especially if the position requires handling money or credit card information.
In all cases, make sure that you’re treating everyone equally. In other words, if you are going to do background checks, do them for every new hire, as a selective or inconsistent background check process can come across as discriminatory.
We always recommend our members use National Crime Search for their background check needs. It’s free to sign up and, after you are approved to receive background checks from them, you can do so for one low fee each time you need to run a check on an applicant. One note: it’s best to sign up well before you need to perform a background check as that approval process will take about thirty days.
Don’t get burned by a bad hire. Prevent negligent hiring by running professional background checks for each and every new hire and practice with peace of mind knowing that you’ve done your due diligence to vet candidates before adding them to your team.