Contractually obliged

Contracts come in all shapes and sizes. But whatever form they take, if you sign one with an employer, principal, primary care trust or patient then you must be prepared to stand by it. If you have any doubts about a contract then do not sign it, because you will be bound by the terms you have signed.

Many contracts in dentistry are based on the standard BDA agreements, while others are ‘bespoke’, having been prepared by solicitors on the specific instructions of the practice owner(s). Again, do not sign what you do not understand. Resolve any areas of uncertainty first and have them rewritten.

A contract is there to protect all parties, and a good one will include some form of dispute resolution in the event of a disagreement between them. It can also help to avoid confusion or lack of clarity about the terms of the actual agreement.

In the workplace, employees have a lot of protection under employment legislation, equal pay legislation and laws covering discrimination on the grounds of race, sex or disability. So be cautious about accepting any position where a contract is not offered.

If the position is employed, there is a legal obligation on employers to provide a statement of terms and conditions within two months of the employee’s start date. A dentist who accepts a position without a formal written agreement may have very little recourse if things go wrong.

The General Dental Council offers only minimal guidance in its Standards for Dental Professionals. Paragraph 5.4 reads, ‘Find out about laws and regulations which affect your work, premises, equipment and business, and follow them.’ So these are the basic components of an employment contract.

It may contain a variety of information but it should include the items listed below, although this is not an exhaustive list:

• The names of the parties involved

• The date when employment starts

• The date when the contract takes effect

• The scale and method of remuneration

• The intervals at which remuneration is paid

• Any terms and conditions relating to hours of work, including normal working hours and contractual overtime

• Holidays and holiday pay

• Job title

• Place of work

• Terms and conditions in relation to study leave, sick pay and leave of absence

• Terms and conditions, if any, relating to pensions

• Length of notice required from all parties

• If the employment is not permanent, the period for which it is expected to continue or the end of the fixed term if fixed

• Any collective agreements

• Details concerning work outside the UK if any

• A note specifying disciplinary rules and where they can be found, and grievance procedures. Problems arising from the implementation of the new General Dental Services contract has perhaps brought this issue into sharp focus, but it is an issue that is vitally important when entering into any formal agreement with another party. As with any legal matter, always seek expert advice from a solicitor.

Dental Protection members can obtain advice on this and any other issues via the helpline 0845 608 4000.

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