Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Associate Agreements

Associate Agreements (contracts) can suffocate us at a time we should be reveling in a new opportunity.  However, many dentists don’t understand what is in their contracts, in turn complicating the process and turning this joy of new opportunity into a whirlwind of anxiety and trepidation.

This article is not intended to be legal advice.  ALWAYS consult an attorney or legal expert in your jurisdiction.

Here are a few points to pay attention to when reviewing your Associate Agreement:

1. Employee or Independent Contractor:  Regardless of the debate on what is technically legal or acceptable by the IRS, make sure you know which status you are agreeing to.  If taxes on income are not paid correctly, it could come back to bite both the associate and the practice.   Consult a CPA or Attorney on what is correct for your situation.

2. Compensation: Are you going to be paid on collections or on production?  These two do vary, but don’t get stuck in the mindset that production-based income is the only way you will accept to be paid.  Keep in mind that even if you are paid on production, many practices will adjust your future paycheck if there are any unpaid patient balances or write-offs.  In essence, you are being paid on collections anyway.

3. Notice Period: The length of termination periods are widely becoming 30 or more days long.  We’re seeing more and more asking for 60 to 90 days notice.  Understand what is required of you to terminate your employment with a practice. 

4. Restrictive Covenants and Non-Compete Clauses: Dental practices will protect their interest by requiring you to agree to some sort of restrictions upon the termination of your employment.  They will restrict you from practicing dentistry in any capacity within a certain distance for a specified length of time.  There will be other language that restricts you from soliciting patients or staff for a specified time period.   Distance varies upon geography.  For example, rural areas can have 20 miles or more of a restricted zone, while a metro area will be 2 to 5 miles.

5. Lab Expenses:  Most practices are paying these costs; however, make sure to ask if you will be paying for any lab expenses.  There is no real standard on this in the industry.  Practices will have associates pay for half or an amount equal to the Associate’s percentage of pay.  Also, make sure you understand the formula for calculating your pay with lab expenses.  You want the lab expense to be deducted from the total production prior to calculating your percent of pay.  {Pay = % of production * (Production – Lab expense)}

These are just a few of the “biggies” that develop in contract negotiations.  Again, refer to your attorney for precise legal advice.

Posted by Carl Guthrie, Senior Dentist Recruitment Consultant with ETS Dental. To find out more, call Carl at (540) 491-9104 or email at