Dental and Medical Counsel Blog

7 Important Things to Consider When Hiring An Associate

May 23, 2018
Dental Employment Contracts

Hiring an associate for your dental practice isn't a process to be taken lightly. Not only are you hiring someone who will be working with you and your patients for a long time to come, but you're also setting the stage for a professional relationship that could last through the duration of your practice. As you create your associate dentist employment agreement, make sure you're giving serious consideration to these key concerns. 

1. How Long is the Term of the Contract?

When you first bring on a new associate dentist, you can't know how well they're going to work out for your practice. You want to be sure that you're getting someone who will be a good fit for you--not to mention being sure that your contract is working for both you and the new associate. Choose a reasonable term for the contract so that you can reevaluate your specific needs when it's over. You can always sign a new one when it's over, but knowing that there is a clear end will make it easier for both of you to handle the contract--and give you the opportunity to renegotiate terms that aren't working. 

2. What are the Responsibilities of the Associate?

Many young dentists may prefer to work as an associate for a few years before they dive in with their own practice--or a dentist may find that they prefer working as an associate to pursuing a partnership. It's important, however, to clearly define the responsibilities of the associate. What hours is the associate responsible for working? Is the associate responsible for bringing in patients, or is all advertising on the shoulders of the owner(s)? Clearly defining the responsibilities of your new associate in your associate dentist employment agreement will ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows what is expected of them. 

3. What is the Associate's Status?

When you bring on an associate, are they an employee of the practice, or can they be considered an independent contractor? How you choose to define this role will determine a number of things, including how you pay your associate and how their taxes are filed. Make sure that the employment agreement clearly defines their status and how these issues will be handled in order to make sure that everyone is on the same page--and to make sure that there are no surprises come tax time. 

4. How is the Associate Paid?

Are you compensating your associate on an hourly basis, salary, per diem, or percentage of production/collection? It's important to clearly set out the terms of compensation since this is a key area of concern for most employees. Your new associate needs to know how they're going to be paid, what they're going to be paid for, and how much they can expect to be paid for their work. A percentage of what you make from the patients they see? Make sure that you offer an associate agreement that you can live with. Take into consideration the possibility of a growing practice and additional associates as you write the terms of that contract. It may also be helpful to define how the associate will be scheduled: are you guaranteeing full-time hours, or are they working for you on an as-needed basis?

5. Are You Creating a Restrictive Covenant?

When you bring in an associate, they're going to work closely with the patients you've found for your practice--and in some cases, the patients who see them more than they see you may prefer them! If your associate chooses to leave your practice, how does that have the potential to impact your patient base? A restrictive covenant will help prevent your new associate from taking any of your patients with them when they leave the practice. Keep in mind, however, that depending on their future goals, your associate may want to be able to open a practice in the same area as yours--and an excessively restrictive contract may prevent them from signing on with your practice. Also, some states do not allow restrictive covenants so make sure you check with your state’s laws.

6. How Will You Handle Legal Risk?

In any dental practice, there’s the risk of negligence, dental malpractice, and other potential legal complications. Chances are, you have an extensive array of insurance to help protect your practice against those legal consequences. Your new associate, however, will also need to carry certain types of insurance in order to protect them and your practice--and you need to make sure that their actions are covered by your policy. Take the time to evaluate your current insurance policies, then make sure your employment agreement includes any information about insurance that your new associate needs to carry in order to meet legal requirements and protect the practice as a whole. 

7. Under What Terms Can an Associate Be Terminated?

You've signed a contract for a specific duration with your new associate dentist--but that doesn't mean you're locked into the contract no matter what they do. While an irritating, frustrating employee can make work conditions irritating, it's not usually grounds for firing them, either. Make sure that your contract includes the terms under which your associate can be fired. Clearly define the behaviors that you expect of an employee of your practice and make it clear that you will take action if your goals aren't met. This simple strategy can make the difference between a bad associate that you're stuck with and one that you can easily dismiss--not to mention ensuring that you're covered if they seek unemployment or try to claim that you fired them for invalid reasons.

Writing a strong dental associate employment agreement is one of the most effective ways to protect your practice, yourself, and your new associate. Working with a legal professional can help you draft your initial agreements so that you end up with an effective agreement that is written with the best possible terms for both you and your associate--and give you more confidence that you're signing a fair and equitable agreement. 

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