Five tips to avoid legal trouble in practice

Sarah Buxton, a BSDHT (British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy) partner, shares her top legal tips for dental hygienists and dental therapists.

Sarah Buxton, a BSDHT (British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy) partner, shares her top legal tips for dental hygienists and dental therapists.

1. Seek advice before you sign

One of the main issues currently affecting dental hygienists and dental therapists is the need for advice regarding new contracts and contract disputes.

We believe that many different factors can contribute to contract disputes arising. Commonly, this can be due to a misunderstanding of the terms of the agreement or disagreements in respect of losses incurred by the practice as a result of the clinician’s actions.

For example, if we look at a dispute in respect of pay, it might arise if it was believed the practice had incurred losses due to equipment being broken by a clinician, so they deduct this from their pay. The clinician may believe that the equipment breaking was not their fault.

Whether the deduction would amount to a breach of contract would depend on the individual circumstances and the wording of the contract, and the only way to be clear on that is to seek appropriate legal advice.

2. Don’t assume you are self-employed

Even if your contract states you are self-employed, you might qualify as an employee or worker for the purposes of employment law. You may have more rights than you think! The issue surrounding employment status arises from IR35, whereby the government changed the way in which it determines the employment status of individuals for tax purposes.

The risk to dental practices is that if a person is found to be an employee or worker, they may be liable for paying their income tax and National Insurance. This is why most dental practices are reviewing their contracts to include self-employed indicators in an attempt to mitigate this risk.

Our advice is that if a person is genuinely self-employed, then this should not affect their position. However, a lot of dental practices are opting to take the ‘low risk’ option of engaging their dental hygienists and dental therapists on an employed or worker basis.

Whether an individual is genuinely self-employed depends on the contract in place and the substance of the relationship between the practice and the individual.

Ultimately, this comes down to how much control the practice has over the individual in their engagement. If anyone is concerned about their employment status, we would advise they take specific legal advice and, for tax purposes, seek the advice of an accountant.

3. Communication is key

At Buxton Coates Solicitors, we are sometimes asked to intervene in issues where there have been disagreements between colleagues, which we realise can be quite upsetting for those involved. They are often a result of a lack of communication and can be resolved informally with guidance in most cases.

This means that when colleagues reveal that they are disagreeing, it should initially be dealt with informally, where possible. Often, a ‘quiet word’ is all that is needed to resolve their concerns, which means there is no need to formalise the issue.

If that does not work, a more formal approach will be needed. Advice should be sought on the right way to pursue the issue, in accordance with legally recognised procedure.

4. Consider legal expenses insurance

The economy is affecting disputes, as individuals and businesses don’t necessarily have funds readily available to pursue or defend claims for monies they are entitled to or losses they have incurred. I would therefore recommend taking out legal expenses insurance cover for these circumstances.

This essentially covers any legal costs you might incur while pursuing resolution for a specific dispute. There are, of course, terms and conditions applicable to these policies, so choose carefully if you decide to proceed with legal expenses insurance.

5. Don’t panic

If you find yourself facing a potential legal problem in your professional life, the reality is that there will be options available to you more often than not. The legal system supports dental hygienists and dental therapists by providing facilities for taking advice and offering various methods of dispute resolution both inside and outside of court.

You should contact a solicitor to have an initial conversation about the situation and the options available to you in respect of advice and funding for this.

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