Working Interviews: Dentists, Beware the Pitfalls!

Human resource advisor Barbara Freet, PHR presents a special feature about how working interviews for hiring dental professionals can be a lot more complicated than it might seem…

Working interviews for dental professionalsI am frequently asked questions about issues stemming from working interviews. The concept seems so simple, and it’s one that is embedded in the dental industry. However, in practice, it can turn out to be quite complex.

First of all, lots of doctors don’t realize that asking someone to do actual work means they must be paid. I can’t tell you how many times doctors have called me in astonishment when someone who came in for a working interview turned around and took them to the Labor Commissioner because they weren’t paid.

Then an argument commences about how much the interviewee should be paid. The applicant may expect to be paid as much as they asked for in the interview (or, if not discussed, the amount the person thinks they deserve). The doctor is often under the impression that it should be less because it is part of the interviewing process. Then the battle begins. Usually the doctor loses, because he or she never gave the candidate anything in writing about what to expect.

Next, if doctors have applicants doing working interviews and do pay them, then they become employees of the practice. If they are working on “real” patients and seeing patient records (Personal Health Information — PHI under HIPAA), the doctor shouldn’t be surprised to find the practice liable for mistakes made by job candidates.

Because this is an industry standard, I suggest following a few simple guidelines. I have talked to my labor attorney about this, and this is what he suggests as well.

  • Go through all the steps in the interview process before having someone come in for a working interview. That includes interview AND REFERENCE CHECKS. We all know that people are on their best behavior during interviews and working interviews, but that is why references should have been thoroughly checked before this step. Often this isn’t done because doctors say, “She did great in the working interview…I never knew such a good assistant could be so awful to work with!”
  • Give the candidate a letter telling them one of two things: 1) this is a “voluntary unpaid part of the interview process,” or 2) this is a paid day at x rate of pay. The letter makes no promises of employment and is clear about the hours the interviewee should expect to be in the office. (I have a template of such a letter.)
  • I like the “voluntary unpaid part of the interview process” option, but it has to be done properly. The applicant has to come into the office for less than a full day, e.g. 5 hours. S/he should be looking at a “dummy chart” that has been prepared ahead of time and is used for this purpose. It can have many things in it that the person has to address, and it can be a mess. This allows the doctor and team to compare “apples to apples” with all candidates, as they all deal with this file (or files). If the doctor wants the applicant to exhibit their clinical skills, it would be better if they did so on team members and not patients. The team member is going to be able to judge the applicant’s “touch” personally while the doctor and any assisting team members see what s/he does as well. With proper planning, this can be accomplished effectively. (I understand that doctors don’t like to give up production hours, but an effective interview is an investment in the practice.)
  • If the doctor pays for the day at the hourly rate stated in the letter, then the applicant should be paid that very day in full. If s/he is scheduled to be there more than one day, then the wages paid may go over the cutoff for not taking out taxes (which is still $600). If you pay the candidate over $600, then the applicant is considered an employee, even if briefly! If they are under the IRS amount, then a 1099 must be sent at the end of the year.
  • The next issue that commonly comes up is this: If the person is considered an employee, then does the doctor have to pay Unemployment Insurance even if they are there only a day or two? The answer is probably no. But how UI works will be handled in another article.

If you have questions specific to this or other issues, please give us a call. We have dental clients in every state and will be happy to assist you.

Dental human resource advisorsBarbara Freet, PHR is the President of Human Resource Advisors in Lafayette, CA. She has been working with dental practices in all 50 states for over 14 years and has owned and managed her HR consulting firm for over 20 years. If you have questions regarding any part of the employment relationship, please call Barbara or her staff at (925) 283-7305.

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