Things to look for in
your associate dentist
Kevin A. Shea, JD
IF YOU GET A JOB AS AN ASSOCIATE DENTIST, typically you will be confronted
with a written employment agreement containing many confusing terms and
conditions. Trying to decipher the meaning and context of such a contract can be
just as confusing as a layman trying to read an x-ray.
Listed below are a few items you need to be aware of
before you sign an employment agreement. Please note
that these are simply generalities to look for. You should
always consult an employment law attorney for more specific applications regarding your particular employment
WHAT IS THE TERM OF THE AGREEMENT? Most employment agreements have a “commencement date” and subsequently a “termination date,” or a method with which to
terminate the employment. It is critical that you know the
term, because there may be certain applications of the
agreement that do not begin until a commencement date
and your agreement may terminate automatically, which
may negate certain duties, rights, and responsibilities even
if your employment continues (e.g., your restrictive covenant; see below).
HOW ARE YOUR COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS DETER-
MINED? Naturally this is a critical question, since your com-
pensation is probably the most important component of the
agreement. Some things to be aware of are:
• Are you being paid a salary? If so, when are the payment
dates of the salary? Is the salary annual? Monthly? Per
diem? Hourly? Is your salary in lieu of production? In other
words, will you receive more compensation (e.g., a bonus)
if you produce at a higher level, and conversely will your
salary be reduced if you don’t meet certain production
goals? How is the bonus ascertained? Including an example
as an exhibit to the agreement may be helpful.
• Is your compensation based on a percentage of production
or a percentage of collections? Further, if it is production,
is it usual and customary fee production or “adjusted
production”? Of course, based on usual and customary
fees, your production will be greater than either collections or adjusted production. Most contracts are based
on production, since it is gross production or adjusted
production and it is easier to track administratively. Nevertheless, if your percentage is based on collections, you
must be very careful to ensure that the collections flowing
from your production are calculated accurately. An understandable system should be developed that is able to
be audited if necessary.
• If you are paid on collections, please be mindful that you
may receive compensation from the employer after you are
finished working at the office. Of course, some of your
production will not have been collected when you leave
that employment; therefore, as those payments are received
by the employer, the employer will continue to pay you.
Either an arrangement should be made to estimate such
collections and give you a “final check,” or you should have
a system in which you can review and audit if necessary.
• What is included in your production? Do you get credit
for your hygiene exams? Do you get credit for your
exams? Do you get credit for x-rays that you order?
• What is deducted from your production? Laboratory
fees? Dental appliance costs? Other benefits that you
receive (e.g., continuing education fees, dues, licensure
fees)? If there are some other deductions, how much?
For example, are 100% of your lab fees deducted, or is
it a percentage of your lab fees?