Tips on How to Approach Your First Employment Contract

By Fred Segal

Receiving a proposed employment contract can be both an exciting and a scary moment. On the one hand, it can be exciting that you have received an offer to become employed by a health system or a medical group. On the other hand, it can be overwhelming to receive such an important document and have little knowledge as to whether it adequately protects you. Below are a few tips on what to look for and how to approach your first contract.

Consult a Professional

It can be a daunting task to try and decipher what some of the provisions in your agreement mean and how they can affect you. Most residents and medical students rarely have any legal experience. Even though you probably are able to decipher the terms in the contract, the lack of experience with employment contracts may not allow you to determine whether they terms in the contract are fair in the industry. This is why it is essential to consult a legal professional to review your agreement before you sign it. The small investment at the outset could help you save a significant amount of money in the long run.

Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate

Many times, residents are so happy to receive their dream offer that they are afraid to negotiate specific terms of their contracts. Attorneys frequently encounter residents who think if they try to negotiate their terms, the employer will move in a different direction and they will be out of luck. This is not the case. It is reasonable to try and negotiate the terms of your deal, especially if you believe the terms are unfair.

Non-Compete Agreements Are Normal

Non-compete provisions, as unfair as they sound, are quite common in physician employment agreements. A non-compete provision basically prevents a physician from working in a defined area for a specific amount of time. The rationale is that since the employer will spend a substantial amount of time and effort training a physician, the physician should not be able to simply leave his or her job and compete with the former employer. These provisions are reasonable as long as the distance and time restrictions are fair. The laws in certain states do not allow these types of provisions. In Florida, a non-compete provision is not considered unreasonable on its face if the time restriction is for two years or less.

Don’t Underestimate the Specifics

There are certain specific terms in a proposed contract that, in this author’s experience, are not taken as seriously by physicians. For example, a majority of physician contracts will state the physician’s responsibilities and duties. You should review these carefully and be sure that what your employer states you are responsible for on paper meets your expectations going into the job. In addition, what are the payment terms? How do you get paid and how often? Also, what will your call schedule be? How does that schedule compare to other similarly experienced physicians?

The tips above only broach the surface of the amount of issues you must look out for when reviewing your first employment agreement. Nevertheless, this is not as daunting as it seems. Read every provision carefully and think long and hard about how these provisions may affect you in the present AND the future. Protect yourself from future headaches now.

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