Will you be an employee or an independent contractor?

When you leave dental school and head out into the world, it’s likely that you will consider joining an existing practice. Whether you hire or are hired, you will likely sign an employment contract. An employment contract is an agreement under which a dentist commits to perform certain services and a practice agrees to compensate that dentist for performing those services.

In general, the relationship between a dentist and a practice falls into one of two categories: employee or independent contractor. The distinction between the two is important, and not understanding the difference could lead to unintended legal consequences.

Who is an employee?

An employee follows an employer’s directions and supervision as to what and how work is to be performed, such as:

  • When and where to work
  • What order or sequence to follow when performing the work
  • How to procure supplies and equipment
  • What workers to hire or assist with the work

In general, the employer controls the details (such as the “when” and the “how”) of the employee’s service. A practice may wish to hire an employee if he or she desires to establish this type of (generally longer term) relationship and to maintain greater control over how and when work is to be performed.

Who is an independent contractor?

An independent contractor is a self-employed professional who exercises independent judgment and renders services as specified in a contract. The independent contractor is able to control the means and methods by which the work is performed, while the practice is able to direct what work is to be performed but does not control when and how the result is accomplished. The independent contractor generally has greater control than an employee over the following factors:

  • Working hours
  • Fees
  • Personal work routines
  • Appointment-book control
  • Treatment and planning

A practice may wish to engage an independent contractor if it requires a specialized expert for a particular area of dentistry, to replace an employee on vacation or leave, or to increase the utilization of the dental office facility.

What are the ramifications?

Be aware that whether a dentist is identified in an employment agreement as an independent contractor or an employee is of less significance than his or her actual working relationship with the hiring agent, which is what the government will look at if legal consequences arise. Unless that relationship meets the legal standards for an independent contractor, such characterization (and treatment) should be avoided. Often, when a hiring relationship is mischaracterized, it is because the employer preferred to characterize someone who works under employee conditions as an independent contractor.

The ADA publication “Dentist Employment Agreements: A Guide to Key Legal Provisions” explains many of the terms and provisions common to dental employment agreements, including the distinction between employees and independent contractors. An ADA video is also available to help you understand the difference between employees and independent contractors.

Note: ADA materials, including this blog post, are not intended to offer legal or professional advice or opinions. To get appropriate legal or professional advice, you must consult directly with a properly qualified attorney admitted to practice in your jurisdiction.

This content is sponsored and does not necessarily reflect the views of ASDA.

ADA Center for Professional Success

The ADA Center for Professional Success provides practice management content and decision support tools with the goal of helping members practice successfully, learn conveniently and live well. Visit the Center at Success.ADA.org.

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  1. Young puppies…there is more than is presented.
    How about being an owner, entrepreneur?
    You can do this as a real person, your presentation as DDS; or, Incorporate in Nevada and then register as a foreign coporation in your state…and practice as an employee or contractor of your corporating with anonymity, but you are the behind the scene owner as the sole stock holder of bearer shares of your Nevada Corporation. Look into this. Contact Cathrine Mead of Resident Agents Natioinal…ran1977@sbcglobal.net

  2. Its better to first go for job or independent contracts just after DDS. Collect some experience and then look for the right time to start your own dental practice. Ultimate goal should be to be an entrepreneur. Its fun to give someone job rather being hired for job.

  3. A word of advice, especially in regards to the employee and independent contract position – have your lawyer review the contract and your accountant discuss the financial aspects of this decision. For the IRS, very few of the jobs are truly independent contract positions, and being designated as such has major tax implications for the new dentist.

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