The advantages of a comprehensive associate agreement

When an associate dentist or hygienist joins a practice it is vital that a formal written agreement is drawn up. Many think that a verbal agreement will suffice. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case.

Having a physical document will cause less confusion and will also give both practice owner and associate a legal point of reference should any differences manifest in the future. In essence, a properly drafted, well considered agreement should significantly reduce the possibility of a conflict as all of the issues should have been considered and agreed at the outset.

If an associate dentist or hygienist joins a practice with no formal agreement having been composed, there are a number of problems that can occur. One is confusion over employment status. This needs to be stated clearly as there are great differences between being ‘employed’ and being ‘self-employed’. If ‘employed’ the associate has the full benefit of employment rights, such as the right to not be unfairly dismissed. If there is no written agreement there is a real risk of the associate or hygienist successfully claiming employment status.

The benefits of a written contract affect both the associate and the practice owner. A formal agreement will offer the practice owner protection. If the associate dentist leaves the practice having not reached his/her target UDAs or performed treatment that will require further work from someone else at the practice, they could potentially leave the practice owner unfairly out of pocket. With a written agreement they can avoid this outcome. A written agreement can also ensure that the Principal will not have liability to pay for UDA’s for which the Principal will not be paid by the BSA.

The practice owner can also include binding out or restrictive covenant clauses. These can prevent the associate from setting up in competition with the practice. Without this being in place, a practice may see many of its patients leave with the associate. There are many myths about binding out clauses but the basic position is that a practice is entitled to protect its business and the courts will order an injunction where these clauses are breached. It pays to seek protection against this in the form of properly drafted and carefully considered binding out clauses.

There are many other problems that can materialise when no formal contract is drawn up. Clearly the advantages of having the contract extend to both practice owner and associate dentist, so it is in the best interest of both parties to get one sorted as soon as possible. Creating the agreement can be complex, so it is wise to seek the help of an experienced dental lawyer. Legal firms such as Goodman Grant have an extensive knowledge of the dental industry and will provide a service that is tailored to the unique requirements of those who work within it.

In the same way as no two practices are the same, no two associate agreements will ever be the same. For instance, an NHS practice will need a different contract to that of a private practice, or one that offers restorative and cosmetic dentistry. This is why using a specialist dental lawyer is the smart choice. Their knowledge of the dental industry will make it easier for you to make the right decision from the options that are available to you.


For more information please call Ray Goodman or John Grant on 0151 707 0090 or email [email protected]



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