maternityThe profession needs more education on the rights of associates, particularly when it comes to maternity and paternity rights, Neel Kothari says.

A while back I came across an interesting debate on social media regarding an associate who was unsure of her working rights during maternity.

As the thread went on it became clear that the profession is split, with some believing that a ‘self employed’ associate has no rights, some being unsure and others adamant that this could be a case of discrimination.

After much debate I decided to contact ACAS to seek clarification, whose representative informed me that for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 (Sect 41 part 5) a dentist may be self employed but would be considered as a ‘contract worker’ and replacing a contract worker due to having a baby could be seen as discriminatory.

Rather worryingly, it would appear that this view isn’t glaringly obvious to all, which makes the risk of litigation between principals and associates far higher than it ought to be.

Are things getting worse?

Well, data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) inform us that the number of associates continues to rise (now at 83.1% of the profession) and that the number of women dentists in the NHS is at an all time high.

In 2014/15, 47.1% were female, up from 38.8% in 2006/07, with women dentists being in the majority amongst the under-35s (57.1%) and 35-44s (51.1%).

Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) tells us that men on average take two weeks paternity leave whereas women take around 20 weeks.

With this in mind it is likely to be an increasing issue for many dentists.

What do others think?

Victoria Holden, dentist and dental adviser for Taylor Dental Services says: ‘Whilst it is true that self-employed workers do not have as many rights as employees, the notion that self-employed associates do not have any rights at all is incorrect.

‘The Equality Act 2010 protects against discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics which include age, gender reassignment, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion or belief, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity.

‘These characteristics are not just protected for employees, but also associates, contract workers and prospective employees during a recruitment process.’

What does this mean for the profession?

In my opinion, we as a profession urgently need more education about working rights for dental associates.

As pressure mounts to hit targets, working rights often get squeezed and in some cases this can lead to significant stress and heartache for dentists who feel that they have nowhere to turn.

Nobody expects working life to be easy, but to have to deal with confrontation, litigation and the threat of potentially losing your job at a time when you have an extra mouth to feed seems to me to be beyond cruel.