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The Sarah Buxton blog


Should you worry about your self-employment status as an associate?

Have you heard about the new case threatening the self-employment status of associates? This topic has come into question a few times over the last few years. Now, serious suspicions are being raised regarding the legal definition of this role.

Associate dentists were holding their breath last year when Uber drivers were ruled to be “workers” and entitled to the minimum wage alongside other employment benefits. Uber disagreed, arguing that their contracts outlined that their workers were self-employed. The Supreme Court found that, because they were “subordinate and dependent” on the company, they were, in fact, workers rather than self-employed.

A new case involving an associate dentist has brought the issue much closer to home for many practising clinicians.

Ms Sejpal, an associate who had a BDA agreement, claimed that the Rodericks Dental Practice unlawfully discriminated against her based on her pregnancy. Her entitlement to maternity leave and other employment benefits depends on her status as a “worker” - she would not receive them as a self-employed staff member.

An employment tribunal deemed she was not a “worker”, dismissing her claims against the dental practice. But she appealed to an Employment Appeal Tribunal, which found her appeal successful on five of six grounds.

The case is currently with another employment tribunal for further consideration. If they deem her to be a “worker”, she can proceed with her claim, an outcome that many are arguing could have severe implications for NHS dental practices.

But not to worry - this won’t always be the outcome. In similar cases where we have drawn up associate contracts for our clients, the court has found them to be self-employed.

One such client is Lisa Bainham. One of her associates claimed they were an employee instead of a self-employed worker. Lisa used our associate agreements, and the associate was found at the Employment Tribunal to be self-employed. As she says:

“The last couple of years have been unprecedented, and we have been navigating in a way we haven’t before. Recently, we had a situation involving an associate who didn’t want to fulfil their contractual obligations. This disagreement led to a breakdown in our relationship, and we eventually decided to give notice and terminate their contract. The associate claimed unfair dismissal, saying she was a ‘worker’ rather than self-employed. Luckily, we had Sarah, who gave us support on tap. The bespoke associate contracts she developed for our practice, combined with procedures we put in place, helped the judge to decide that our associate was, in fact, self-employed”.

If you need any help with your associate contracts or other issues around self-employment, get in touch with me to set up a call.

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