Various issues can arise when a physician decides to leave a practice, but a carefully written employment agreement can help avoid some of the stress and acrimony that can result, according to two attorneys.
A properly drafted agreement that addresses the terms of separation upfront can help avoid disputes and litigation, wrote Howard Bogard and Kelli Fleming, partners with the law firm Burr & Forman LLP, on the Medical Association of the State of Alabama website.
“Careful planning on the front end through a comprehensive employment agreement is the most important element in an amicable and fair separation,” they said, and it doesn’t matter whether a physician is an employee or an owner. Problems can arise particularly if a physician stays in the area and will compete against his or her former practice.
Here are some key provisions to include in employment agreements, they say:
Set expectations of conduct during the transition period that occurs after a physician gives notice. This can be a stressful time, as a practice may feel the physician’s loyalties have shifted. The agreement may spell out expectations that the doctor cannot copy medical charts of patients or compile lists containing patient data.
Outline how patients will be notified the physician is leaving. Know your state law and what is required in terms of notifying patients the date the physician is leaving and his or her new contact information. You can specify in the agreement the form of patient notices, how costs are allocated and the timing of the notice.
Determine access to patient medical records. Patients have the right to access their records and can direct the practice to make copies available to the departing physician.
Protect other practice employees. When a physician leaves, he or she may encourage other employees to leave and work for them. The authors noted in the second-part of their series that an employment agreement may specify that for one year following termination, a physician shall not directly or indirectly encourage a practice employee to leave your practice.
The third part of the series discusses provisions that will protect confidential information of the practice and protection from future liabilities.
However, before physicians sign an employment contract, they should check the fine print carefully. Physicians need to pay close attention to confidentiality clauses that often appear in employment contracts and which may not be in their best interests.