If you are the owner of a dental practice, knowing what to look for and what to include in an associate contract is critical in protecting your best interests. Several main components that an associate contract should include are the salary and benefits package, the terms of employment, and what happens in the case of a separation. Below are several key items that you should include or keep an eye out for when negotiating associate contracts.
Finances and Benefits
As the owner of a dental practice, you will have the best insight into what you think should be included in an associate contract. While associates may consider finances to be one of their highest priorities, that is only one aspect of what you will need to think about as a practice owner. In addition to the salary, you will also need to codify the benefits package that you will be providing for the associate. This means how much the associate will get paid, when they will get paid, and any other information related to financial information. Further, including a specific schedule for work hours will indicate your expectations for the prospective associate.
Terms and Conditions
Next, you should include language related to the terms of the employment contract. For your peace of mind, a contract should include how long you intend to keep an associate employed at your dental practice. This can help to limit frequent turnover, especially if you include a financial penalty as part of the agreement; the term can be a number of months, a probationary period, or a number of years. The downside to this is that you may be contractually bound to this associate for the specified period.
You will also need to include language related to the formal process that you will require an associate to follow if he or she is seeking to terminate employment with you. In addition, you should lay out exactly what happens after termination. In order to protect yourself and your intellectual property, you will likely want to build restrictive covenants, such as non-compete clauses (please check your state laws as some states do not allow non-compete clauses), into the contract. This intellectual property can include information such as patient names, referral sources, and even business strategies. Those clauses are likely to be one of the most important elements of your associate contracts. Most importantly, restrictive covenants and/or non-compete clauses can limit the associate’s ability to practice at another dental practice within a certain geographic area. You will also want to make certain that your restrictive covenant prevents an associate from taking a list of patients with them when they leave.
When you are a dental practice owner, the associate contracts that you execute should seek to lay down the ground rules for an associate, explaining how they fit into their role, how that affects your practice’s finances, and what will happen if something goes wrong. By thoroughly preparing for each possible situation, you can be certain that the associate contract sufficiently protects you and your dental practice from any unforeseen situations. Additionally, we suggest you consult with a dental attorney before having an associate sign their employment agreement.
In our next blog, we will discuss what to look for in associate contracts from an associate's perspective.