As a benefit for dues-paying members, we provide a referral and discount service to have your post-training employment contract reviewed by an attorney before you sign. Our attorney provides this service at a flat fee of $400, with half billed to the union and half to you. For similar services procured on your own, you’d be paying the full $400+, so we hope you take advantage of this benefit!
If you’re getting ready to apply for jobs and would like to take advantage of this benefit, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some general tips re: Employment Contracts
Negotiating an employment contract can be a daunting and intimidating process. Below are a few things to look for as you negotiate your first post-residency employment agreement.
- Take stock of priorities and focus negotiations accordingly. An employment agreement is a bilateral contract, meaning it is supposed to be a reflection of a negotiation between both parties – physicians should not feel like they must “take it or leave it.” While not every goal will be achievable, physicians should come up with their list of “must haves,” and focus bargaining on those areas.
- Make sure to get it in writing! Often, physicians who have been offered jobs have been told many things about the terms and conditions of their employment in casual conversations or in email exchanges with a recruiter, but those things are not spelled out in the contract. Commonly excluded things include the number of shifts the physician is expected to work, how much call must be taken, the schedule and length of shifts, and how much vacation or other leave is available. Remember that if it is not in writing, it does not exist. It is more than reasonable and totally appropriate to ask for everything that has been promised to be reduced to writing and included in the agreement.
- Employee or independent contractor? Physicians work as both employees and independent contractors. Most contracts will expressly characterize the relationship as one or the other, though that characterization may or may not be upheld in court. There can be pros and cons to either, though it is important to understand the differences, including things like the impact of laws that protect employees but do not apply to independent contractors (such as FMLA, employment discrimination laws, the ADA, etc.), differences in tax implications, and tort liability for employees v. independent contractors.
- Is the non-compete acceptable? Non-compete agreements (“NCAs”) that restrict a physician’s ability to practice in a designated area for a specified amount of time are routinely included in employment agreements. Courts in Washington will not enforce an NCA that are necessary to protect legitimate employer interests, not unreasonably burdensome to the employee, and not harmful to the general public. A NCA will also not be enforced if it is unreasonably broad in terms of geographic limitations, or that restricts an employee for an excessively long period of time. Washington employers have required physicians to sign NCAs ranging from 5-20 miles, and from 9 months to two years in duration. Whether a given NCA would be enforceable is fact-specific, and there is likely to be some uncertainty at the time the NCA is executed. Employees may want to try to push back to limit the geographic scope and duration of a NCA, or to limit its application to situations where the physician is discharged for cause or voluntarily resigns, or to make the NCA effective only after a trial period.
- Read all the policies and other rules incorporated into the contract. Many employment agreements incorporate by reference various employer policies. It’s important to review such documents to make sure they are acceptable. Contracts may also grant the employer the right to adopt new policies that will apply to the physician. Such policies will not override the terms of an individual agreement, but only to the extent the agreement expressly conflicts with the policies. This is another reason to make sure that all key terms are reduced to writing, and thus not subject to being overridden by a later-adopted employer policy.
- Ensure the contract guarantees liability coverage. Physicians should make sure that the contract requires the employer to procure sufficient malpractice coverage (limits of $1 million per occurrence and $3 million aggregate is standard). One thing to look for in particular is whether the employer is required to purchase “tail” insurance, covering claims that arose during the physician’s employment but not filed until after the relationship has ended, is included.
- How will the relationship end? Many physician employment agreements contain provisions requiring either party to give notice to the other before terminating the agreement. Some agreements contain provisions restricting the employer from terminating employment except “for cause” (which should be expressly defined), while others may allow the employer to terminate without cause but require a longer notice period to the physician if the employer chooses to terminate for no cause.
This guide provides just a few areas of focus and is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice. Each employment contract presents its own unique challenges and opportunities and an attorney should be consulted to help you navigate the specific issues presented by your employment agreement.