Working Interviews: To Pay or Not to Pay?

I’ve heard the term “working interview” used often with dental and veterinarian practices.  A “working interview” is when the practice/employer wants to observe the clinical or clerical skills of job applicants (dentists, dental hygienists, veterinarians, assistants) or their clerical staff (front office and billing staff) by actually seeing the applicant perform essential job duties before they hire the applicant as an employee. 

The question is often raised, “do I need to pay wages for working interviews?”

The answer….it depends.  I know, that’s the typical lawyer answer.  But really, it depends on what the applicant is asked to do and the length of time they are performing the tasks.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), unpaid working interviews are only lawful if the work is not to the benefit of the enterprise and the interview is limited only to the necessary amount of time to test the applicant’s ability to perform the essential job functions.  So, if you have the applicant work an 8 hour day by seeing patients and performing services that you would have performed if not for them there, you really need to pay them. 

So, as an employer how can you “try it before you buy it?”

The answer is skills testing. The difference between working interviews and skills testing is the environment they are performed.  During a working interview, you ask the applicant to work alongside you during a regular workday and have him or her perform and demonstrate skills on patients.  In contrast, skills testing is when you set up a scenario and ask the applicant to walk you through it, as they understand it.  For example, take an assistant into a room and show him or her your set up.  Then ask the applicant to reproduce the set up in another operatory.  For a clinician applicant, create a chart for a fake patient (or use a real patient) and have the applicant tell you how they would proceed.  This skills testing method will grant you an inside look at the applicant’s skills and personality without requiring you to pay them.

In summary, by using the skills testing method you will have all the benefits of a working interview, but without the requirement to pay the applicant. Happy hiring!


The author, Matt LaMaster, is the Founder and Principal Attorney of The LaMaster Law Firm, PLLC, a boutique style law firm committed to delivering legal services to dental practices, chiropractors, veterinarians, and healthcare facilities. 

For more information about Matt LaMaster, The LaMaster Law Firm, PLLC, and employment related issues, visit