Dental and Medical Counsel Blog

What Every Optometric Associate Contract Should Include

December 2, 2020
Optometry Lawyers

If you are a new optometrist, a great way to enter the field is by signing a contract with an existing optometry practice. This gives you the opportunity to improve your skills and learn different aspects of the business from more seasoned professionals. For the optometry practice, hiring or contracting optometry associates is also a fantastic way to increase revenue and offer better service to existing patients. 

For both the practice and the associate, the contract is an important aspect of this professional relationship. You need to know what the standard clauses are, and what is acceptable in a contract. You should also know which aspects of an optometric associate contract are negotiable. It's always advisable to have a lawyer look over contracts before you sign.

Does Every Optometric Practice Need an Associate Contract?

If you run a private optometric practice where you are the only optometrist, then obviously you don't need a separate associate contract. If you do employ associates who are strictly paid by the practice and do not have any ownership, you should have an associate contract. For optometrists, it's also important that you have a contract to protect your employment through a larger practice or employer. 

These contracts lay out the rules that govern the relationship between an optometric practice and the optometrists. They define the payment structure, whether the optometrist is hired as an employee or independent contractor, and they stipulate each entity's responsibilities in every aspect of the business. 

Here, we'll lay out what's covered in standard optometric associate contracts. Some points are negotiable and you can tailor your contracts so that the best interests of both parties are met.

Employment Terms

The first thing that an optometric associate contract does is set the terms for employment. Is the associate an employee or an independent contractor? What are the responsibilities that are included in the position? 

The contract should stipulate how performance is measured in the practice.

It might lay out specific responsibilities. Some practices may expect new optometric associates to do their own marketing and bring in their own patients. Or the optometrist may simply be scheduled with the practice's current patient load. This should be discussed in advance but may or may not be detailed in the contract.

Employment terms also include the payment structure. The salary and schedule of payments should be addressed here. The structure may be based on a set salary or based on the number of patients that they see. Benefits in this section may include vacation days, insurance, association fees, and other benefits. The associate's malpractices and general liability insurance may be covered by the associate or the practice. This should be clearly addressed in the contract. Some practices cover the associate's continuing medical education costs.

Contracts should also stipulate work hours. This might include working on-call or the type of schedule that is expected to be met by the practice.

Contract Terms and Time Frame

Is the contract a simple associate contract or does it include other arrangements? Some optometric associate agreements may simply offer employment for a set time limit. In these contracts, there will be a section providing information about renegotiating a new contract, as well as a time frame where both parties can sever the relationship without cause. For instance, there may be a 90-day time frame where the associate can let the practice know, in writing, that they do not intend to renew their associate contract. In order to protect both the practice and the associate, the infractions that can be cause for dismissal should be clearly laid out in the contract.

A buy-in clause may be included in a contract where the associate and practice have agreed that the associate will be eligible to buy into the partnership after a set amount of time working as an associate. The buy-in terms are often negotiated at the time of purchase. If the practice and associate are coming to an agreement that hinges on this future scenario, the buy-in clause needs to be included in writing.

Clauses to Consider

Non-compete clauses stipulate that an associate cannot work within a set geographical area for a certain amount of time, but this timeframe should be reasonable. However, it is not standard to have non-compete clauses in associate contracts because many states do not allow them. It is recommended that you check with your state laws.

While there isn't a template for this type of clause, it's important to understand the non-compete if you are in a state that allows them. This clause indicates that the employee can't enter into a similar business or work in competition with the employer. The associate is also an optometrist and there is no reasonable way to enforce that an associate can't work in their field for any length of time. In states where the clause is allowed, the time frame is fairly reasonable and it stipulates that the associate can't work within a set geographic region only.

If the clause is written in an overreaching way, it may not hold up in court in your state. The best way to make certain that both parties' interests are being met is by drawing up a fair clause that does not infringe on either party's ability to succeed after the contract has ended.

An anti-solicitation clause may also be included in the contract. This clause is drawn to stop associates from luring patients away when they leave. This clause may also be difficult to define as some patients will build a bond with the associate and naturally follow them to a new practice. 

Due Diligence to Protect Your Interests

The contract can stipulate any parameters that meet the needs of the two parties but it is up to each entity to do their own research and make certain that their new partner is the right fit.

Things that the practice should verify before offering a contract to an associate:

  • Verify Degree. The associate will provide their educational background, but it is up to the practice to verify that all information is accurate.
  • Verify Licensure and Standing with the State. It's up to the practice to verify that the associate holds a current license in good standing.
  • Verify Malpractice Insurance. The practice needs to verify that all malpractice insurance is adequate and current.

Things that the optometry associate should verify:

  • Standing of the Practice. You should verify that there are no pending lawsuits or other red flags that might make the practice a professional risk.
  • Liability Coverage. Make certain that the practice has the proper amount of coverage and verify how the practice deals with compliance issues.

There are other aspects of the position that will be important, such as the preferences and personalities of the various parties working in the practice.

Need Help Understanding Your Optometric Associate Contract?

If you have a practice and are currently considering hiring a new optometric associate, you should use a contract to protect both parties. The same can be said if you are an associate seeking employment with an established practice.

Contracts can be difficult to read and should be drawn up by a professional lawyer. At Dental & Medical Counsel, we can help tailor the contract to fit your practice needs. 

If you need help creating or understanding an associate contract, or if you need help with any aspect of your practice, contact Ali Oromchian at Dental & Medical Counsel to schedule a complimentary consultation.

Need Help with Your Agreement? Contact Us Today for a Complimentary  Consultation!


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