Employment contracts can be very brief or fairly detailed. Generally speaking, they should be long enough to include the major elements of your agreement. Employment contracts generally cover the following:

Term of employment, events of termination – Employment contracts are either for a set term or period (e.g., one year, two years) or simply provide you are employed “at will” (meaning employer can terminate you at any time, with or without a reason).

Absence of reference to a specific term or time period generally makes the contract “at will.”

Normally, a contract will have some form of termination protection so if you are dismissed “without cause” there is some period of advance notice and/or continued pay and/or benefits (e.g., 30, 60, 90 days).

Also, where there is a set term, the contract generally renews automatically unless one or the other of the parties gives notice of nonrenewal within some specified period (normally 30 or 60 days) in advance of expiration.

There is seldom any employment protection if you are terminated for cause. The contract generally defines what constitutes “cause” by identifying specific events.

Examples might be theft, failure to maintain required licenses, failure to perform normal duties, etc.

In some cases, where cause is correctible (for example, a failure to keep Saturday hours as opposed to something like theft), a contract may require your employer to provide written notice of the problem and then allow some period of time to correct it (e.g., notice of a failure to keep Saturday office hours, followed by your subsequently being there on Saturdays during the hours in question).

Duties – The types of services you are expected to provide should be noted (description can be general or specific, depending on situation), as well as any expectation as to the number of patients to be treated, hours you are to be in the office and any other required duties (e.g., completing dental records, involvement in administration of the practice).

If you are responsible for any portion of practice expenses (rent, malpractice coverage premiums, staff salaries, etc.), this also should also be specified.

Compensation and benefits – Your rate of compensation should be stated (e.g.,$x.00 per month or $y.00 per annum), as should any agreed upon increases and/or review and/or adjustment periods.

For example, reviewed and adjusted after six months, reviewed every six months and adjusted annually, reviewed and adjusted annually.

Also, if there is to be a bonus that would normally be stated along with agreed upon criteria for determining the bonus (e.g., based on total net income of the practice, your individual contribution to the net income of the practice, the number of patients treated, other performance measures).

It is particularly easy to have misunderstandings about benefits. While you may not want to list every benefit in the contract, you may want to identify them in an attachment. The most common benefits are medical insurance, dental coverage, vision insurance, group life coverage, disability coverage, vacation and sick days and some form of retirement program/contributions. You should know what these benefits cover, what they cost and what portion of the cost is paid by the employer.

Patients – Another often neglected issue is the disposition of patients and patient records if you leave the practice.

If the patients you care for are to be yours and not the practice’s, making it possible for them to follow you if you leave, should be spelled out.

Potential purchase of practice share – Another item that can be covered in either an employment agreement or a separate document is a potential opportunity to buy into the practice. If that is really a part of your bargain and not just a nebulous reference to future possibilities, it should be in writing.

The agreement should cover timing (set date or list any time after specific date), what percentage of the practice you can purchase (if you are not buying the entire practice, there can be issues as to who has the ability to make practice management decisions), the price or formula to determine price and possibly changes in compensation (e.g., change from a salary to a partnership share).

There are, of course, other issues you may wish to cover depending on the particular situation.