How well do you know your job applicants?

May 15, 2006

When doctors get together to discuss practice problems, sooner orlater, someone will tell a horror story about a trusted employeewho stole money. Could that happen in your practice? Beforeinsisting it couldn't, ask yourself how much you really know aboutthe backgrounds of those who handle your office payments, payroll,and finances. How carefully did you investigate their credit andcriminal records or their employment and personal references?

When doctors get together to discuss practice problems, sooner or later, someone will tell a horror story about a trusted employee who stole money. Could that happen in your practice? Before insisting it couldn't, ask yourself how much you really know about the backgrounds of those who handle your office payments, payroll, and finances. How carefully did you investigate their credit and criminal records or their employment and personal references?

Unfortunately, some people will embellish their experience or credentials to help get a job. Or they may fail to mention that they were once fired for violent behavior. Or it may be a reference who chooses not to disclose a serious problem.

For example, one internist hired a bookkeeper who had formerly worked for an OB-GYN in the same city. When he called for a recommendation, the OB-GYN described the applicant as efficient, well-organized, and popular with patients and staff. What he didn't say-and the internist only discovered a year later, after he had to fire the bookkeeper for stealing a sizable sum-was that the OB-GYN had also fired her for embezzlement.

For employees who will be handling cash, checks, credit card information, drugs, or confidential patient information, criminal background and credit checks are essential, says Geoffrey Anders, an attorney and consultant with The Health Care Group in Plymouth Meeting, PA.

Even for those in less-sensitive jobs, it's worth checking employment references and educational backgrounds to make sure applicants are really as qualified as they claim. While that may take some effort and expense, it's a reasonable investment, considering the time and costs of recruiting, hiring, and training a replacement for someone you later have to fire. Besides, as Anders points out, if you tell applicants that you'll be doing a thorough background check, you may scare away the bad apples. While the thoroughness required for a background check depends on the specific job being filled and on relevant state laws, the following basic steps should be part of the process:

You can't ask an applicant's age, but you can confirm that the person is at least old enough to meet the state's minimum age for employment. You can't ask about physical or mental disabilities, but you can ask if there's any reason the applicant might have difficulty meeting the job's specific requirements. You can't ask about U.S. citizenship, but you can ask if the applicant is legally authorized for full-time employment in this country. You can't ask if the applicant has ever been arrested, but you can ask if he or she has ever been convicted of a crime or if there are any pending felony charges.