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What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You: Why Background Checks are a Must in Dentistry

Background checks are a must in dentistry. It’s just too dangerous to skip them, because you are responsible for the care they provide to your patients. 

Before you allow a dental employee to join your team and interact with your patients, you must be sure that they have been truthful about their employment history, they are properly licensed, and they don’t have a history of violating the law. A misstep with any of these can put you, your dental practice, and your patients at risk - and you could be liable for any oversights. 

Imagine the impact of hiring a pharmacy technician with a recent drug-related conviction or a bookkeeper who was terminated by their previous employer for misuse of funds? What if one of your newly graduated nurses never completed licensing exams? Are you confident that the physicians you are considering for your team don’t have formal complaints under review? 

The challenge with background checks is that they are strictly regulated in many states - both what you can do and what you can’t. Depending on your location, you could face liability if you fail to obtain proper consent from the applicant, you pull records you aren’t entitled to, or you misuse the information you receive. 

Finding the balance between ensuring the safety of your practice and staying compliant with regulations is complicated. These are some tips and best practices to keep in mind. 

Table of Contents: 

What is a Background Check?

What You Need to Know About Background Check Laws

Why More is Better When It Comes to Background Checks

Why Conduct Ongoing Screenings?

How HR For Health Can Help


What is a Background Check?

In a general sense, background checks are just as they sound - a review of candidates’ employment history, licensing, and any legal issues. This process offers you the opportunity to identify and eliminate serious issues before bringing a new hire on board. 

Background checks are a bit more complex in dentistry than they are in other industries. There is more at stake when caring for patients versus - for example - manufacturing companies or financial institutions because you are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of your patients. 

Certainly, there is time and expense involved in pulling and reviewing these records. Some practices only choose to do the bare minimum to stay in compliance. Other practices take their background checks a bit too far, looking back farther than allowed by law or obtaining records without the candidate’s consent. Again, the key is finding the right balance to protect your practice. 

What You Need to Know About Background Check Laws in Dentistry 

Compliance with federal regulations is pretty straightforward when it comes to background checks. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you must obtain a signed release before collecting any information. You are also required to follow specific steps before you withdraw an offer of employment or take other adverse employment action as a result of a background check. This is what you need to know: 

  • Before taking adverse employment action like withdrawing an offer, you have to give your candidate a pre-adverse action letter. 
  • The letter covers the name, address, and phone number of the agency providing the information. 
  • In addition, you must include a copy of the relevant background report, as well as a copy of the Summary of Your Rights Under the FCRA form. 
  • The candidate then has up to five business days to dispute the negative information in the relevant report. 
  • If the candidate begins the dispute process with the credit reporting agency, you may have to wait for the outcome. 
  • If not, you have to send an adverse action letter explaining what action is being taken, e.g., withdrawal of an offer, as well as a copy of the background report and the same Summary of Your Rights Under the FCRA form. 

Staying in compliance with state laws is far more difficult. Every state has regulations around background checks, but the specifics vary widely. Most place a limit on how far back you can review a candidate’s records and what information can be included. There may also be restrictions on which types of jobs are covered. 

The covered positions are typically determined by the annual rate of pay you are offering the candidate. For example, California limits background checks to seven years unless the position you are considering the candidate for pays at least $125,000. Above that threshold, background checks are extended to ten years. 

Why More is Better When It Comes to Background Checks

While other industries may limit background checks to employment history, criminal records, and a drug screen, your dental practice should gather additional information as allowed under federal, state, and local laws. 

Examples of items on a background checklist for healthcare include the following: 

  • Professional License Verification (as applicable) 
  • Review of Healthcare Sanctions (as applicable)
  • Verification of Identity and I9 Form 
  • Verification of Education
  • Verification of Employment History
  • Motor Vehicle Records Check 
  • Credit History 
  • Drug Screening (lab-based) 
  • Local and National Criminal Records Check
  • National Sex Offender Registry Check 

Of course, some items aren’t applicable for some positions. Clearly, you won’t need a professional license verification for your Office Manager. However, that doesn’t mean you should pass on other, more relevant reports. 

Verifying employment history and education against details provided on their resume can help you validate that your new hire has the knowledge, skills, and integrity necessary to add value to your team. 

Remember, a misstep in any one of these areas could put you at risk for a negligent hiring claim if your team member makes an error or otherwise causes problems for your patients or your employees. 

Why Conduct Ongoing Screenings? 

Once you have gone through the work of a comprehensive background check at the time of hire, it's easy to assume that’s the end of screenings for your new team member. However, it’s a mistake to skip ongoing screenings, because all sorts of issues can pop up without your knowledge. Issues that occur outside of work - like arrests and convictions - might never come to your attention without a refreshed report. 

The same goes for license verifications, as licenses do expire, as well as testing for illegal drug use. Employees who successfully passed a drug screening when you brought them on-board may have developed a problem or relapsed into drug misuse. 

It’s important to note that a change in any of these reports doesn’t mean immediate termination of employment. You may have a legal requirement to offer your team member a leave of absence until legal issues are resolved or substance misuse treatment is complete.

How HR For Health Can Help

HR for Health has deep experience in recruiting top healthcare talent and simplifying the onboarding process. When you partner with HR for Health, you receive the support and guidance you need to conduct compliant interviews, as well as professional advice on creating offer letters that include language around background screenings. 

About HR for Health 

HR for Health is an all-in-one HR software solution dedicated to helping the dental, optometry, and veterinary industries. Our human resources platform features all the tools practice owners need to manage payroll, timekeeping, 401(k), and more with total integration and ease. 

Whether you’re looking for HR support for a small business or you’re a large group dental practice, HR for Health has the solution to fit your practice and budget. Reach out to a HR for Health account representative to learn more, today: Schedule a Meeting