Understanding Physician Employment Agreements

From Your Evaluations of Steve Kaufman’s Lecture:  Understanding Physician Employment Agreements

Can you give an example of a “good,” “average,” “complete,” or “standard” contract?

There is no such thing as a standard contract.  Every job is different.  Therefore, every contract is different.  Remember, the purpose of a contract is to accurately and as completely as reasonably possible set out the true business relationship between you and your employer.  What that entails depends upon the job.  For example, if you are taking a job in your hometown where you plan to spend the rest of your life, a 25-mile noncompete might be “bad” from your perspective.  However, if you have no prior connection to the town and are taking the job for the experience, expecting to move to another state after a year, that same 25-mile noncompete might be perfectly acceptable.

How do I find a lawyer to help me with a contract (and many variations of the same question)?

You can call me.  I have helped doctors with contracts from almost every state and would be pleased to help any of you.  If you decide to use a different lawyer, it’s important to find someone with experience, specifically with physician contracts, and better yet, OB/GYN contracts; otherwise, you may run into a Rule 1 problem (“It’s not in English”), and a lawyer with insufficient experience may not be able to interpret the contract language in the context of your job.

I’d like to know more about how to be a better negotiator.

Negotiation is a learned skill.  There are many good books on the topic.  Google “Win Win negotiation” to find good books on negotiating.  

I’d like to learn more about insurance (malpractice, life, disability).

While you are working, employers almost always pay for malpractice insurance.  The question is who pays for the coverage after you leave your job.  This is addressed in one of the articles attached to the handouts you got at my lecture.

Some practices may offer life or disability insurance.  Life insurance is usually for a relatively small base amount that can be increased at your expense.  Rather than assume that the price you will pay for extra insurance is competitive, I recommend shopping.  It is often less expensive elsewhere. 

Disability insurance is a nice benefit, but you also may want to have your own personal policy that you can take from job to job.  The best disability insurance will pay if you cannot practice in your own specialty, even if you could otherwise work.  If you’re paying for your own disability insurance, there are also tax benefits if you ever receive disability payments. 

What happens if I break my contract?

You could be sued.  You might be sued for money, or perhaps to make you stop whatever you are doing.  For example, if you join an office across the street from your former employer, and you have a noncompete that forbids it, your employer can sue you and ask the judge to require you to stop practicing at your new location. That is called an “injunction”.  Sometimes, nothing happens when you break your contract, as your employer may decide that it’s not worth the time or effort to sue.  It depends upon specific circumstances.  I strongly suggest that anyone considering breaking a contract consult a lawyer first.  As I am sure you all realize from my talk, it is much more expensive to fight in court than to work out a clear agreement in advance.  Separation agreements when a job ends are common and negotiable.

What can be changed in a contract?

This question invokes Rule 3 (“Everything is negotiable”).  The question really is, what will the employer agree to change?  That will depend upon what you are asking for (you are more likely to get $500 in CME than a $100,000 raise!), and your negotiating leverage.  Simply put, how badly does the employer need you, and how badly do you need the job?  Remember, the only sure outcome of a negotiation is that you won’t get what you want if you don’t ask for it.

Stephen H. Kaufman

Wright, Constable & Skeen, LLP

100 North Charles Street, 16th Floor 
Baltimore, Maryland 21201 
Tele:  410-659-1385

Cell:  410-802-7585

Fax:  410-659-1350
E-mail:  skaufman@wcslaw.com