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Laura Pearce

Laura Pearce

Laura Pearce is a senior solicitor at JFH Law advising dental practices and dentists on a wide range of matters, including employment law and HR issues, contractual and commercial disputes, professional disciplinary, specialist list applications and regulatory matters including CQC inspections. 
 
Laura graduated from Northumbria University in 2004. She gained her experience at two National firms before joining JFH Law in March 2015. 
 
You can visit JFH Law’s website at http://www.jfhlaw.co.uk/
 
Or follow us on twitter at https://twitter.com/jfhlaw
09
May
0
Posted by on in The Tooth Counsel

There is a feeling amongst dentists on forums such as this that the GDC has become too heavy handed when dealing with alleged misconduct cases.

In March 2017 alone, of the 29 misconduct Fitness to Practice cases heard by the GDC, 9 dental professionals were suspended, 4 had conditions placed on them, 4 were erased and 2 were reprimanded. There were also 4 cases with the outcome still pending. That means of the 25 cases concluded 76% of dental professionals were found to have committed misconduct.

Compare this with the GMC figures for the same month, there were only 6 misconduct Fitness to Practice cases of which only 2 had findings of impairment made against the doctor. Considering there are more doctors than dental professionals registered to practice in the UK, the difference is significant.
 
In November 2016 the GDC introduced Case Examiners in an attempt to help streamline the Fitness to Practice process. Their role is to consider whether a referral should be made to the Practice Committee. Given this new stage is still in its infancy, we are yet to see what impact this will have on misconduct cases within the dental profession. However, it is hoped that as cases will be considered by a lay member and a dental professional, a more proactive approach will be taken at an early stage. This is the approach taken by the GMC and the low numbers of misconduct cases being referred for hearings could be a positive sign of things to come.

Unfortunately there are rarely any consequences for patients who make spurious complaints which are not upheld; however, the same cannot be said for the professional. The time, stress and expense of misconduct hearings can have a devastating effect. Many feel that their stress is exacerbated by an unsympathetic and heavy handed regulator.

If you are facing a misconduct investigation, it will no doubt be a worrying period for you.  It is important to understand from the outset what legal test the GDC will be applying. This way you can properly prepare your defence and gather evidence from an early stage. Proper presentation at the start may well ensure that the Case Examiner determines that a case should be closed at an early stage. If the case should proceed to a hearing you will be armed with the necessary knowledge to put forward the best possible defence, which in turn could help with any later appeals to the High Court.

What test does the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) apply when assessing Fitness to Practice?

The Test

The test the PCC applies is twofold;

1.       Has misconduct taken place?

2.       Is the dentist’s fitness to practice impaired?

Whether or not misconduct has occurred will depend on the allegations raised and the evidence produced and as such this element of the test will be fact sensitive. The PCC must decide whether ‘it is more likely than not’ that the allegations took place, which unfortunately is a relatively low threshold. However, even if any of the allegations are found to be proved, case law has established that the conduct must be ‘serious’ before moving to the next stage of the test.

Tip. Is this a potential area that can be challenged? Are you able to obtain evidence or refer to previous cases that show the misconduct is not serious and therefore no further action should be taken?

When considering if a dentist’s fitness to practice is impaired, the PCC should look at the dentist’s current fitness to practice? It will not be sufficient to show historic impairment, unless the misconduct is so grave as to warrant it.

It should be noted that impairment is not assessed against any established standards of proof; it is a matter of judgment for the PCC committee. However, a failure to comply with the fundamental standards laid out in the ‘Standards for Dental Professionals’ is likely to lead to a finding of impairment.

Tip. Even if you do not accept the allegations against you, you should consider what actions you can undertake to show your fitness to practice is not impaired. For example, attending training courses, amending your policies and procedures, or being mentored/shadowing another dental professional. This should not be seen as an admission of guilt but a recognition that professionals can always seek to improve. 

The Sanctions

If impairment is found, the PCC will go on to decide which of the following sanctions to impose:

·         Reprimand;

·         Conditions;

·         Suspension;

·         Erasure.

 

In deciding what sanctions to impose, the PCC must apply the principle of proportionality by weighing the interests of the public against those of the dentist.

Tip. This is where you need to put forward your mitigating circumstances so as to reduce the sanction imposed. Also you are allowed to suggest out what sanctions should be imposed and if you are able to give the PCC well thought-out sanctions bearing in mind the allegations, this could prevent erasure or suspension.  

Stage 1 – Case Assessment

When the GDC receives a complaint, it first considers if it is the correct body to deal with it. If so, it will obtain more information from the complainant to assess whether one of the ‘Standards for Dental Professionals’ may have been breached. It is important to note that the Case Assessors do not make any findings of fact.

You will be asked to provide:

1.       Evidence of your indemnity insurance cover;

2.       Details of your current employers/anyone you are contracted to provide services to;

3.       If the complaint is about dental treatment, the patient’s medical records.

Tip. At this stage do not provide any further information than the above. Whilst it will be tempting to explain what has happened, at this stage the GDC has not set out what the allegations are against you, so you do not know what you are responding to.  Any statement given could later be used against you.

Stage 2 – Case Examiner

If the Case Assessors consider a dentist’s fitness to practice may be impaired the case is referred to the Case Examiners; the case will be considered by one lay person and one professional. At this stage you will be sent details of the specific allegations against you and it is at this stage you will be asked to respond. The Case Examiners are not making findings of fact. Their role is to consider whether there is sufficient information to make a referral to the Practice Committee.

Tip 1. If the allegations are not clear, seek clarification. If evidence is referred to, ask for copies of that evidence.

Tip 2. Whilst the Case Examiners are not determining the case, if you can show there was no misconduct, we would recommend responding fully to the allegations and providing evidence to support your assertions. However, if you think there may be a case against you on the evidence received think very carefully before making any admissions at this early stage. It may well be worth seeing the extent of the case against you before admitting any wrong doing.

Stage 3 – Hearing

Should the case progress to a hearing then you will need to fully prepare for the same bearing in mind the test set out above. Consider:

·         What evidence do you need to rebut the allegations?

·         Are you able to show the misconduct is not serious?

·         What have you done to show your fitness is not impaired?

·         Will other dentists/patients provide statements as to your character?

·         What mitigating circumstances are there?

·         What sanctions should be imposed?

Tip. If you are not happy with the GDC’s decision you have the right to appeal to the High Court within 28 days. We set out the circumstances when you can appeal in Issue 2 of our dental bulletin.

If you need advice on a current Fitness to Practice investigation or appealing a decision of the GDC, please contact Laura Pearce on 0207 388 1658 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">lpearce@jfhlaw.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for advice.

©Laura Pearce, GDPUK Ltd 2017
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07
Feb
0
Posted by on in The Tooth Counsel

Our society has become more litigious over the years; patients are quick to complain to see if they can get a ‘quick buck’ and dentists fear such complaints being escalated to the GDC.

Litigation can be a costly game. For example, it has come to light that the legal costs for the recent 9 day fitness to practice hearing against D’Mello was an average of £10,437 per day. Given the allegations were undefended by Mr D’Mello, who chose not to attend the hearing, this has left many dentists questioning the use of their registration fees and asking why the costs were so high. [ see GDPUK news report].

If a dentist is faced with either a patient complaint or an investigation by the GDC, the traditional course of action has always been to approach their defence union; you pay subscriptions and therefore expect to be represented. However, is the defence union the best and only option to fund a case? What are the advantages/disadvantages with the various funding options?

When deciding whether or not to pursue or defend a claim, determining how you will fund the case will be one of the biggest factors to take into account. Knowing what options are available will make you better informed and can help you with this difficult decision. Here we consider those options and the pros and cons of each. 

Pay Privately. You may choose to pay privately for the legal costs. However, this is often the most expensive way to fund a claim, as it is likely you will be paying the solicitor on an hourly rate basis for all work done to prepare the case, unless you are able to negotiate a fixed fee agreement. The benefit of this is that you can pick an expert in the field and someone you can trust to do the best for your case. The old adage that you get what you pay for is particularly true here. The down side is that due to the very nature of litigation it can be hard to say from the outset the likely fees, as this can change depending on how the case progresses. A solicitor should however be able to give you a ball park figure and may agree to cap costs for you based on this or in respect of various stages to help you manage funds.

If the claim is in the civil courts, you may be able to recover some of your legal costs if you succeed. However, if you lose you could be liable for the other side’s legal costs. Unfortunately, in relation to fitness to practice hearings, you cannot recover your legal costs. Similarly, in the Employment Tribunal you can only recover costs in very limited circumstances and as such it is rare that costs are recovered.

‘No win, no fee’. These agreements are more normally found when one is pursuing a claim rather than defending it. The benefit to you is that there are no solicitor’s costs unless you win; this usually means a solicitor will be confident in the prospects of success of the claim, as otherwise they could do a considerable amount of work for no money. The down side is that as a result of you not paying up front, the solicitor will take a success fee from your compensation if you win.  Also check the terms of any agreement before signing, as there may be hidden costs if you lose or in other situations, which may mean you do have to pay some costs even if you do not recover any monies.

Legal Expenses Insurance Policy. Such policies are normally attached to other insurance policies such as employer’s liability or home contents insurance. The downside to legal expenses insurance is that you often have to meet certain criteria before funding is agreed. They also normally only apply once a dispute has arisen, and do not provide legal assistance to help you resolve a matter before getting to this stage.  The benefit is if funding is approved for your claim your legal costs and disbursements are covered, and often that of the other party’s should the case not succeed. There are different types of legal expenses insurance and it is often worth shopping around to find one that suits you; for example some will cover your legal costs no matter what and some will cover any compensation payable if you lose. Obviously such policies are likely to attract a higher premium. Remember, if you have legal expenses insurance, you have the freedom to choose your own solicitor and do not have to use the panel solicitors instructed by your insurance company.

Defence Union. If you are part of a defence union you will have access to a number of services including legal representation. However, the defence union are not obliged to follow your instructions, and can decide, due to commercial reasons, to settle a claim that you do not what to settle. This can leave you with a sense of injustice and frustration. Another consideration when choosing a defence union over standard indemnity insurance is that you will have no freedom of choice when it comes to choosing the solicitor or barrister that you want. Non-discretionary insurance policies are legally obliged to give freedom of choice in this regard.

After the Event Insurance. As the name suggests this is insurance you purchase after the dispute has arisen. It will normally cover your disbursements and the other side’s disbursements and legal costs should your claim fail. The policy therefore does not provide cover for your legal costs, which you will still need to fund. However, if your claim is in the civil costs and you succeed then you will recover some of your legal costs and disbursements from the losing party.

Do it yourself. There is always the option of representing yourself in proceedings. The benefit is you have complete control over your case and you do not have any legal costs. Beware; if the claim is in the civil courts and you lose you could have to pay the winning party’s legal costs. If you do represent yourself, remember to take a step back from the case; it is all too easy to get caught up in proving every wrong or to throw every allegation into the mix, which can often detract from the strengths in the case. You can consider instructing a solicitor to give you an initial advice so you know what direction to head in. You can also seek advice from a solicitor on an ad hoc basis to help you at various stages which can help keep the cost of litigation down.

How you fund a claim will depend on the type of claim being pursued. A solicitor has a duty to provide you with advice on your funding options, not just their fees, so you can ask them to explain the options available to you. Also make sure you understand any potential costs consequences of losing a claim, as you may want to seek insurance to cover such costs.

Laura Pearce, Senior Solicitor

©Laura Pearce, JFH Law, GDPUK Ltd 2017.
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22
Dec
0
Posted by on in The Tooth Counsel

At the start of 2017, we thought we would take a look back at one of the major events of the past year, and the dramatic effect it has had on both us and …the World.

When the team at the JFH Law’s offices were asked for their views on what this should be, everyone was in agreement that ‘Mug Gate’ was that very event.

‘Mug Gate?’ we hear you all asking, ‘how did I miss that?!’

Fear not; in this blog we will set out the issues surrounding the controversial ‘Mug Gate’ and how you can prevent it happening at your practice. 

It all began on 14th December 2016, when John Howey, Partner at JFH Law, announced he had broken a J mug washing up. ‘The handle just came off when I was washing out the inside’ he confirmed. At first we all laughed and there was some light hearted banter about Mr Howey not knowing his own strength; but things then took a turn for the worst.

Julia Furley, Partner at JFH Law, recalls:

At first it was all a bit of fun. We were laughing away, but then I looked around the room and noticed that everyone was drinking from a J mug. It became immediately clear to me that John couldn’t have broken a J mug. I therefore made the management decision to investigate further, attending the kitchen and conducting an audit of the firm’s J, F and H mugs.”

After Ms Furley had completed the stock-take it was discovered that all of the F mugs had mysteriously disappeared. It might be helpful at this point for the reader to note that we have a variety of mugs with the letters J, F and H on them. With the F mugs all gone, we no longer had our identity!

On 15th December 2016 Ms Furley vigorously interrogated all the staff as to their movements over the previous year and whether they had had any accidents involving an F Mug. Everyone denied having broken a mug. The plot thickened.

Anges Biel, paralegal, was tasked with making enquires with the cleaner, after completing her investigations she confirmed ‘the cleaner is denying any breakages but I have my doubts. I found out his name is Franz Ferdinand’. We were certainly suspicious. Could it be that Mr Ferdinand supplementing his own collection of mugs with our Fs?  

Whilst we now have the expense of re-stocking our kitchen with F mugs, we are also left wondering; what if M&S no longer stock lettered mugs?

Everyone at the office has been left unsettled by these unfolding events. Jigna Verakia, solicitor, provide us with this quote:

I just don’t know why someone would want to take all of our F mugs. We are a close team but I am now left suspicious of those around me. I have my own mug and I now take this home to protect it. I just don’t know what I would do if anything happened to it.

The mystery continues here at JFH Law but what lessons can your dental practice learn from Mug Gate?

Laura Pearce, employment solicitor at JFH Law, advises:

The morale of this story is; don’t trust your staff. Theft is theft is theft. Make sure all surgery property is under lock and key and only the managers can access it. Have a signing in and out form for each time staff members want to use a mug or a pen. Search bags as staff are leaving and undertake random stripe searches. If you find that anyone has taken anything, shout very loudly ‘you’re fired’ and escort them off the premises.

We also spoke to Duncan Roberts, criminal solicitor, to get his take on the situation:

Don’t bother phoning the police; deal with it yourself. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth has always been my motto.

If you need any advice about marching staff of your premises or medieval punishments, please do not hesitate to contact us for assistance. And if anyone sees any of our F mugs, please let us know immediately; there will be a reward for anyone who helps in their safe return.

How to deal with gross misconduct

On a more serious note, dealing with gross misconduct can be difficult; when you work in a small practice, if a member of staff has taken something that does not belong to them, trust can break down and emotions may run high.

Before you jump the gun and start firing staff, take a step back and follow this simple 3 step process to help you avoid landing in hot water.

Step 1 – Investigate

Call the employee into a meeting and question them about the incident. This should be informal and a meeting to gather information not make allegations. You do not need to write to the employee beforehand inviting them to the meeting. They do not have any right to a representative at the investigatory meeting.

After the meeting, consider whether you need to suspend the employee. This should be a last resort and not an automatic response to allegations of misconduct.

If someone else reported the incident, obtain a statement from them too. Is there any other evidence you can obtain to help you make a decision?

At the end of this process gather together the information you have and decide whether there is sufficient evidence to take the matter via a formal route.

It is at this point you can weigh up the seriousness of the allegation and decide whether an informal chat with the employee would be enough to rectify the behaviour. Some companies take a hard line and consider any theft amounts to gross misconduct, whilst others may view the theft of a pen as less serious and give a simple ‘slap on the wrist’ warning not to do it again. Remember whatever line you take make sure you treat all employees the same.

Step 2 – Disciplinary Meeting

If you consider the allegation is serious enough to take formal action, write to the employee and invite them to a disciplinary meeting. The letter needs to clearly set out the allegations and state that if found prove it could result in summary dismissal. At this meeting, the employee is entitled to be represented by either a trade union representation or work colleague, and you should remind them of this in the letter. Finally, make sure all evidence you have obtained is sent to the employee so they can comment on it.

You should give the employee time to prepare for the disciplinary meeting; how much time you give will depend on how much information there is. 

At the meeting put the allegations to the employee and give them a chance to respond.

We would recommend adjourning the hearing to make your decision. If you do this and carry out any further investigations, you will need to re-convene the hearing and give the employee a chance to comment on any new information that comes to light.

Write to the employee with the outcome. Set out in detail why you have come to your decision. If you do dismiss the employee, offer the right of appeal.

Step 3 – Appeal

If the employee appeals the decision, you should invite them to an appeal meeting. This should be heard by someone different to the disciplinary hearing and more senior if possible.

Again the employee is entitled to be accompanied at this meeting.

Hold the meeting and let the employee put forward their grounds of appeal. Following the meeting, write to the employee with the final outcome.

The above three step process is based on the ACAS code of practice, which you should always look to follow. You should also consider what your own policies say and try to follow them where possible.

If you need advice or assistance on dealing with a disciplinary procedure, please contract Laura Pearce on 0207 388 1658 or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

©Laura Pearce, GDPUK Ltd 2017
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0
11
Nov
0
Posted by on in The Tooth Counsel

Uber drivers scored a massive victory against their bosses last week, by challenging the company’s assertion that they are self-employed. However, the London Central Employment Tribunal were not determining whether Uber drivers were employees or self-employed, but rather whether they were somewhere in the middle; were they in fact “workers” for employment law purposes. And the answer was yes.

Uber now faces mass litigation as drivers are being advised to issue claims.  Deliveroo staff are jumping on the band wagon too; they are taking legal steps to unionise and gain worker status. And these are not the only companies that are likely to have claims issued against them. With an ever expanding GIG economy the Uber case is of huge importance.

It also highlights the importance of categorising staff correctly from the outset of any contractual relationship and ensuring contracts are not drafted by lawyers to merely try to avoid claims but are drafted to reflect the reality of the situation.

The distinction between employees, workers and the self-employed is particularly relevant within dentistry. Dentists engaged as associates have traditionally been labelled self-employed, however, the contractual reality is often very different. Practices must now review their contracts and ask themselves what it is they want to achieve from their working relationships. As a practice owner, if you do not want to be liable for employment rights such as sick or holiday pay, now is the time to act. Some simple changes in the way you run your business will make all the difference.  As for associates, it is now worth considering your status to see whether you have been missing out on some of the paid benefits that come from being a worker.

Remember; simply because an associate has signed a ‘self-employed’ contract without complaint for a number of years, does not prevent future claims being issued against your practice.  

This decision is also likely to have a massive impact on the dental community and in particular the classification of associates, especially with the rise of corporates. Here we look at why.  

Decision

On 28th October 2016 the London Central Employment Tribunal sent out its long awaited judgment in the case of Aslam & ors v (1) Uber BV (2) Uber London Limited and (3) Uber Britannia Limited.  The Tribunal held that Uber drivers should be considered workers, as opposed to self-employed contractors.

Uber has already confirmed its intentions to appeal the decision, and the case is expected to go all the way to the Supreme Court given the huge ramifications of the decision, and the implications on a number of business models based on a similar ethos to Uber.

Legal Definition of Worker

Firstly, it should be noted that the Uber drivers were only seeking to establish themselves as workers; not employees. As such we are only considering this category here. For detailed guidance on employment status you can read our October 2016 blog here.

Workers lie in between employees and self-employed contractors, gaining some rights afford to employees but not all of them. This table steps out the rights of each.

To determine worker status, the Tribunal will ask:

  • Personal service: Did the individual undertake under the contract to personally perform work or services?
  • Business undertaking: Was the status of the ‘employer’ under the contract that of a customer of a business undertaking carried on by the individual?
  • Mutuality of obligation: was there mutuality of obligation between the individual and the ‘employer’?

The courts have made it clear that ‘the question in every case is…what was the true agreement between the parties.’ It is therefore the reality of the situation that is analysed in line with the above three questions, not just the contractual documents.

Key Findings

  • Personal Service. It was not disputed that the drivers undertook to do the work personally. In any event the Tribunal found that the essential bargain between the parties was that, for a reward, the driver makes himself available to carry passengers of Uber to their destinations.

 

How is this relevant to dentists?

This is similar to a contract between associate and dental practice, in that the associate must make himself available at agreed times, and for a fee, to treat the patients of the practice.

 

  • Business Undertaking. Uber argued that it was not in business as a supplier of transportation services. It was merely a platform which connected passengers to drivers. Uber claimed to be a a customer of the drivers, as drivers paid a fee to use the platform. However, the Tribunal disagreed. It found that Uber offers a range of services, UberX, UberXL, UberEXEC, UberTAXI and UberWAV. Whereas the drivers only offer one of the services. Crucially, Uber marketed itself as offering a range of transport services, not as a platform service. This was for its benefit; not the benefit of the individual drivers. The Tribunal therefore held that Uber is a transportation service and not a customer of the drivers. Interestingly this is a similar argument Uber put forward before the North California District Court, namely that it was a technology company and not a transportation services. This argument was resoundingly rejected by that court too.

 

How is this relevant to dentists?

Dental practices are not a conduit by which patients access their dentists. Instead they market themselves as the end supplier of a range of services, such as hygienists and therapists or specialists and dentists with specialist interests, whereas not all staff will be providing those services.

 

  • Mutuality of obligation. Once an individual becomes a driver, they have access to the App, which sends passenger requests to available drivers. A driver is not required to turn the App on but when they do there are certain requirements that the driver must adhere to, including the number of cancellations they can make, the number of fares they reject when online and in terms of their ratings. The Tribunal found this meant the drivers were required to work for Uber when online and that Uber had an element of control over the work the drivers carried out.

 

How is this relevant to dentists?

Dental practices must have associates in place to undertake dental treatment on the patients booked into the surgery. As such the practice requires the dentist to be available during surgery opening hours. This is even more applicable in relation to practices with NHS contracts, where the practice will require associates to complete a minimum number UDAs per annum. Associates also must comply with the practices policies and procedures.

 

  • Reality of the relationship. The contract and agreements between Uber and the Drivers referred to Uber providing platform services to connect customers with drivers. Of this the Tribunal said ‘the notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small business linked by a common ‘platform’ is to our minds faintly ridiculous…Ms Bertram spoke of Uber assisting drivers to ‘grow’ their businesses, but no driver is in a position to do anything of the kind, unless growing his business simply means spending more hours at the wheel. The Tribunal went on to state how Uber do not supply leads for drivers, as drivers are not free to negotiate a deal with the customer.

 

How is this relevant to dentists?

Often Dental Practices set the rates for the dental treatment offered and dentists are not free to negotiate those prices.  Also dental practices will often promote the services they offer as a whole and the associate is therefore not free to grow their own business. However, if an associate has their own client list, sets their own hours and/or is able to send a locum in their stead without restrictions, then the reality of the relationship is something different.

We feel that the tide is turning against the broad brush approach to defining ‘self-employment’ and the Tribunals and HMRC will be considering how to crack down on employers seeking to avoid their duties. In a nut shell, in order to protect your practice from costly litigation, make sure your contracts reflect the true relationship of the parties and if you are not sure, then seek advice from an expert.

Laura Pearce, Senior Solicitor

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0
04
Oct
0
Posted by on in The Tooth Counsel

The question of employment status regularly crops up amongst the dental community. Most consider associates to be self-employed because that is the industry norm and how HMRC view associates. However, that may not always be the case.

It is a common misconception that because a contract states it is ‘self-employed’ that will be the end of the matter. However, from an Employment Tribunal perspective the question is a question of fact; not just what is set out in the documents; meaning your contract may not be worth the paper it’s written on.

Given the vast amount of employment rights that employees have, getting this wrong can be a costly mistake to make.  

In addition to ensuring you get it right from the outset, in a modern society people want more flexibility in how they work; as a result hygienists, technicians and therapist are seeking self-employed opportunities. Being able to offer such roles could make you more appealing as an employer, helping you attract and retain the best possible talent for your business.

In this blog we take a look at the legal test of employment status for the purpose of an Employment Tribunal, the common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

The question of employment status is a minefield.  It is therefore not surprising that this issue regularly pops up before Employment Tribunals. There is no hard and fast rule that can be used as the issue is always case sensitive. Judges have tried to give guidance and here we set out the points you should ask when considering the position within your practice. 

It should be noted that the test for employment status for the purposes of employment rights is different to the test that HMRC use. In addition, HMRC allow some professions, such a dentistry, to utilise self-employment status, even if the Tribunals may not agree with this. This article only deals with the question of employment status for the purposes of employment rights.

Types of Employment Status

There are three types of employment status:

1.      Employee:

2.      Worker;

3.      Self-employed.

Employees have the best employment protection, workers have some protection, and those who are self-employed have very little protection. However, those who are self-employed have much more freedom as to how and when they work, compared with employees. As such there are pros and cons with each category, and which is right for you will depend on individual/business circumstances.

You can find out what rights workers and employees have here.

Identifying Status

When looking at whether the individual is an employee, Tribunals will ask:

  1. Must the person personally provide the service or can they send a substitute?
  2. Is the company obliged to provide work and is the person obliged to accept it?
  3. How much control does the company have over the individual?
  4. Who has the risk in relation to the business?
  5. Who provides and maintains the tools?
  6. What degree of management does the individual have in the business?
  7. Does the individual profit from performance?
  8. How is the individual paid?
  9. Does the individual receive holiday and sick pay?

This is not an exhaustive list and the Tribunal does not approach it as a tick box exercise. They consider all the facts and then determine the point. This is why following the industry norm may not always be the best approach, especially with the introduction of corporates and chains.

For worker status there are just three questions:

  1. Must the person personally provide the service or can they send a substitute?
  2. Is the company obliged to provide work and is the person obliged to accept it?
  3. Was the status of the "employer" under the contract that of a customer? 

There is no definition of a self-employed person. They are simply anyone who doesn’t fit into either of the above two categories.

In Issue 12 of JFH Law's Dental Bulletin we highlighted the case of the Hospital Medical Group Limited v Westwood [2012] EWCA Civ 1005 in which the Court of Appeal held that a GP working as a self-employed independent contractor for a private clinic was a worker, even though they had two other positions elsewhere. In our opinion, this case has a lot of similarities to dentists and highlights the dangers of getting it wrong.

Avoiding the Pitfalls

First and foremost make sure the contract reflects the true position of the relationship between the practice and the individual. If you try to avoid the question and/or use pro-forma contracts, the Tribunal will see through this and will scrutinise the matter in detail, potentially leaving you with a hefty legal bill and a payment of compensation to make. Many pro-forma associate contracts try to deal with all eventualities and refer to both NHs and private work. Remember one size does not fit all.

And vice versa; if you have spent money on a contract to reflect a self-employment relationship, make sure what is said in the contract is actually being carried out. If your contract states the individual can send a substitute then you must allow this. Whether this right should be unfettered is likely to depend on how the clause is worded. Given your duties as a dental practice, you will need some assurances as to who the substitute is. If you can avoid a clause that allows you to vet any locums but states a minimum standard of substitute this will give you less control and will make the contract less likely to be deemed an employment one.

As a dental practice you will no doubt have a number of policies and procedures in place for running your business. Make sure you distinguish the ones that apply to employees (mostly likely all of them) and the ones that apply to those who are workers or self-employed. This may mean having a separate set of documents for those who are self-employed in certain areas, such as conduct or performance. However, overall the cost of amending policies compared to the cost of litigation will be worth it.  

If you want advice on the status of anyone in your workforce or need assistance with re-drafting contracts or documents, please contact Laura Pearce on 0207 388 1658 or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Image by Caitlin Childs under CC licence.

©Laura Pearce, JFH Law, GDPUK Ltd, 2016
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