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Don’t use old contracts for new joiners

Avoid dusting off previous contracts when you take on new staff, says Rehan Pasha

Why do practices spend time, resources and money on finding the right person for the job, then give scant consideration to the new recruit’s employment contract?

Often an old contract is dusted off and used for new receptionists or the new practice manager with only personal and salary details changed.

The employment contract provides the basis of the employment relationship and is extremely important in setting out both sides’ obligations, expectations and powers.

Without a written contract, you cannot prove to an Employment Tribunal that an employee is only entitled to, for example, two weeks’ full sick pay as opposed to the two months’ they now seek?

Sickness absence
Some details including pay, holidays and sickness entitlement, notice provision and so on must be recorded in a contract. As the employer, the practice must always comply with its contractual obligations.

It may be wise to set out relatively modest entitlements for sick pay, but to also have a discretion to pay over and above that bare minimum if you think it appropriate.

On the issue of sickness absence, make it a contractual obligation that if an employee is off sick, they (or a family member) must telephone the surgery by, say, 8.45am on each day of absence.

Not only will this allow you to make alternative arrangements for cover in good time, it will also discourage employees wanting to ‘throw a sickie’. If they do not call as required, you have the option to take disciplinary action.

With more junior staff, rather than routinely paying them overtime, you may wish to have the option of directing them to take time off in lieu instead.

Ensure that you have the contractual flexibility to require your employees to occasionally carry out other duties — but remember that you are unable to fundamentally change the job they do.

You may have some staff members who could work from a different location, such as a branch surgery, so remember to include in the contract that right to ask them to work there from time to time.

Notice periods
Longer notice periods for key staff such as the practice manager or nurse practitioner are generally a good idea.

If they wish to leave the practice, stipulating a longer period than for less junior staff means you will have sufficient time to find a replacement. Ensure that if you wish an employee to leave, you can achieve this by giving the person less notice than if they wish to leave.

There should be a ‘repayment’ clause. This will allow you to deduct any money that your employee owes you from their salary. Although this may seem harsh, consider the example of a nurse who resigns and neglects (or refuses) to return some medical apparatus belonging to the surgery.

If all attempts at an amicable resolution fail, you could deduct the cost of the apparatus from their final pay.

You should also have a specific right to pay an employee in lieu of their notice so that if you wish an employee to leave, but they have not committed gross misconduct, you can terminate their employment lawfully and immediately.

Beware of other practices seeking to poach your key staff. Financial management is not taught at medical school so most practices rely heavily on their practice or business manager to look after this.

Losing a key manager suddenly can jeopardise the practice’s ability to get funding for increased services (and hence prevent you from attracting more patients).

Specific clauses called restrictive covenants can, if they are carefully drafted, stop your key members of staff from joining other surgeries.

No GP, in theory, is likely to prevent an employee from finding another job. But you may feel rather differently about waving goodbye to the practice manager that you have expended a lot of time, money and effort in training to become a financial expert if the manager is going to move to another practice. 

Mr Pasha is a partner with the employment team at solicitors Aaron and Partners in Chester, www. aaronandpartners.com 

Employment contract details

GP employers have a legal obligation to give a written contract of employment after the staff member has worked for two months. 

By law contract must include:

  • Start date (including start of continuous employment: this may be applicable if the employee joined you from another practice, e.g. one you have taken over).
  • Salary and frequency of payment.
  • Hours of work.
  • Job title.
  • Place of work.
  • Leave including holiday, sick pay and notice entitlement.
  • Pension entitlement (and whether a contracting out certificate is in force).
  • Duration of contract if the job is not a permanent position.
  • Disciplinary and grievance procedure details (with details of whom to appeal to in disciplinary matters and which person they should raise a grievance with).
  • Collective agreements in place with staff (unlikely to be relevant to many practices).

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