Staff Employment Agreements and How They Benefit Your Dental Practice

As many business owners have experienced, including Ohio dentists, the most difficult job as a business owner is managing and maintaining good employees.  In addition, business owners have to be concerned about the potential ramification of an employee departure, including unemployment compensation, claims of discrimination, litigation, etc.  A valuable tool that is available to: (i) help manage and maintain good employees and (ii) avoid the potential negative consequences of an employee departure is a well drafted employment agreement that includes a job description.

Dentists typically think about and require an employment agreement for their dental associates, which is important.  But, our dental attorneys also encourage Ohio dentists to think about and require each staff member to sign an employment agreement. The main terms of a staff employment agreement should include:

1. At-Will Employment.  It would be made clear that the employment is at-will and can be terminated at any time, and for any lawful reason.  Further, that there are no other promises of any kind, except for those promises detailed in the agreement itself.

2. Duties and Responsibilities.  The duties and responsibilities of the dental staff member would be incorporated into the employment agreement by a well-drafted and customized job description.  We will discuss the job description in more detail below.

3. Compensation.  This is likely self-explanatory.  But, any compensation including bonuses and increases need to be documented in the agreement.

4. Employee Benefits.  Any additional benefits promised to that specific employee should be detailed in the agreement.

5. Policy and Procedure Manual.  There should be an acknowledgement in the agreement that the employee has received, read, understood, and had the opportunity to ask questions, related to the dental practice’s policy and procedure manual.

6.Confidential Information & Non-Disclosure. The confidentiality and nondisclosure provisions require the employee to maintain the dental practice proprietary information.

7. Non-Disparagement.  The non-disparagement provision is intended to discourage and punish the employee for disparaging the dental practice or the dentist.

8. Non-Compete and Non-Solicitation.  Yes, we recommend that many of the staff members have a non-compete, not just the associate dentists.  Think about it, how would you feel if your most valuable dental hygienists or EFDA was working for you on Friday, and working for your competitor across the street from your practice on Monday?

As mentioned in number 2, we want to ensure that the duties and responsibility are well laid out for the employee.  We do that through a well-drafted job description.  And, to be clear, we are not talking about some boiler plate document you purchased from some HR firm, or obtained from the internet.  We are referring to a custom job description that applies to that specific employee. 

Nardone Limited Comment: Let’s repeat that: And, to be clear, we are not talking about some boiler plate document you purchased from some HR firm, or obtained from the internet.  We are referring to a custom job description that applies to that specific employee. 

An accurate job description is essential to selecting the most qualified applicants for open positions in your practice, and it is beneficial when defining an employee’s duties, responsibilities, and expectations. It will also be used as the basis for developing a training program for your new employees. Then, during your employee evaluation sessions, the job description is the yardstick by which performance is judged, giving clarity and consistency to your personnel management. It is also important to have on file for use every time you fill the position or create a similar position. And, do not forget to update these on an ongoing basis.  From our perspective, the best way to do that is to update it during the annual review process or whenever the duties or responsibilities of the position change.  This well-drafted job description will help us, among other things:

1. Manage staff by managing expectations and ensuring we are all on the same page as to the job duties and responsibilities.

2. Maintain good employees because those good employees will fully understand and comprehend their job duties and actual perform them.

3. Minimize any payout for unemployment compensation, mainly because it will help your legal counsel establish that the employee was not meeting the basic functions of the particular job position.

In the end, the staff employment agreement that incorporates a well-drafted job description is a great tool for the dental practice owner, as we continue to struggle with managing and maintaining good staff, and yes in some instances, minimizing negative consequences of an employment departure.

About the Author

Tanya Nardone, an employment and labor law attorney with Nardone Limited, represents closely-held businesses, including Ohio dental and other professional practices. Ms. Nardone has also conducted supervisory and employee training seminars on various employment topics such as: (i) hiring and firing; (ii) discipline, discharge, and documentation; (iii) discriminatory harassment; (iv) performance evaluations; and (v) disability discrimination and leave issues.