If you are a dentist who is about to join a practice as an associate, you will want to review your employment agreement very carefully as it defines the rights between employer & employee and is typically put in place to protect the employer. To ensure that everything goes smoothly, it is in your favor to consult with a contract attorney from our law firm. Below are a few key items to consider; these have some of the most impacts on your future plans for growth.

  1. Fixed-Term vs. At-Will: If your employer implements a fixed-term agreement, your employment will be for a specified period of time and may only be terminated as provided in the agreement. The agreement should explain when and how your employment will end, as well as if you are able to renew your term there.  This is common if you are being hired as seasonal staff or filling in for someone, typically if they are sick or on maternity leave. The typical agreement, however, is on an at-will basis.  Unless your agreement specifies a defined period of time of employment, you are employed “at-will”.  This means that either you or the employer may terminate employment at any time for almost any reason, with one notable exception being certain types of discrimination.  Your agreement will most likely be at-will, so just bear that in mind.
  1. Employee vs. Independent Contractor: The agreement should also specify whether you are an actual employee or an independent contractor. It may seem like a fine distinction, but it could have large consequences.  Employees typically have benefits, while independent contractors do not. Employers have much greater control over the when, where, and how of the job. And employees generally enjoy greater liability protection under the employer’s umbrella.
  1. Role Description & Responsibilities: Your agreement should include a detailed description of your daily tasks and long-term responsibilities. Know what your employer’s expectations are regarding your role at the practice.
  1. Compensation: Probably one of the main things you’ll be worried about is when and how much you’ll be getting paid. Payment terms should be laid out in your agreement, sometimes as a percentage of your collections or an annual salary. Make sure you understand the formula and find out if it is subject to your employer’s discretion. Your contract should also list when and how often you’ll get paid. Make sure that you understand and that you’re comfortable with how this is set up.
  1. Benefits: Know what benefits the practice provides and make sure they are all included in the agreement. Common items include health insurance, vacation/sick days, professional liability insurance, bonuses, reimbursement for professional dues & CEs, retirement plans, etc. Know what types of benefits you would appreciate and discuss them with your employer. Remember that your agreement is not set in stone.
  1. Competition Restrictions: The non-compete provision has one of the greatest impacts on you and your career and so should be considered very carefully. Employers include these provisions to protect their goodwill and client relationships, aiming to prevent an associate from leaving and opening up their own office in the same geographic area. You will want to review the timeframe and territory stated in the agreement.  Both must be “reasonable”, which is a moveable target. How these terms are defined is key in knowing your rights upon leaving the employer’s practice.
  1. Solicitation of Patients & Employees: Often overlooked, non-solicitation provisions can sometimes be even more important than competition restraints. An employer will put these in place to prevent you from soliciting existing patients, referrals, and sometimes even other employees. If you ever decide to leave the practice, you will not be able to solicit business from any of the existing patients or staff members to come with you.  It’s easy to understand why employers want these provisions, but, again, make sure the geographic and time terms are reasonable.
  1. Non-Disclosure Provisions & Confidentiality: This may be set out in a separate non-disclosure agreement but either way, confidentiality should be addressed. You will have access to a patient’s private medical records as well as other important information that should never leave the practice. This protects you and the employer
  1. Buy-In Process & Value Determination: You and the employer may contemplate that one day you will take over the practice or otherwise participate in the succession process. Make sure any terms involving buy-in or buy-out, including purchase price and any applicable formulae, are defined in the agreement. Avoid gray language like “to be determined later”.
  1. Anything that is discussed verbally: Anything else that is discussed verbally, get it in writing! If your employer mentions anything, make sure it is documented somewhere within your contract. Remember that your contract is and should be negotiable- protecting yourself now will save you from complications down the road!