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  • Avoiding contract disputes

    Read and understand before you sign – avoiding contract disputes

    It is exciting starting a new position with new opportunities, but it is important to get the terms of the engagement right before you start. Many doctors sign contracts without really understanding them, being clear about the terms and conditions of your arrangements upfront lessens the chance of a dispute occurring down the track.

    Read and understand the terms and conditions of your proposed contract. The key terms for close consideration are:

    • the nature of the working relationship (employee or contractor)
    • the term of the contract (ongoing or fixed term)
    • working hours
    • your leave entitlements
    • remuneration
    • termination / resignation rights
    • post-employment obligations (for example, any restraint of trade obligations)
    • ownership of medical records

    If you don’t understand a term in your contract or you do not agree with it, speak with your employer / principal. You can ask to change the contract you are offered even if you are told those are the “standard terms”.

    There may be other terms and conditions that apply to your engagement, for example those contained in legislation, an award, enterprise agreement and employment policies.

    Obtain legal or other advice about your proposed contract before you sign, especially if you are unclear about what it means.

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    You are bound by your contract

    Ultimately it is up to you to decide whether you are willing to accept the terms and conditions of the contract. You and the other party to the contract may be willing to negotiate over some things, but not others (this is less likely in the hospital context).

    You will generally be bound by the contract you sign. For example, if the contract requires you to give 6 months’ notice to resign, you will be required to do so. If you don’t, your employer / principal may commence legal proceedings against you and those legal proceedings can cause significant stress.

    After the contract has been signed

    If you have concerns about the terms and conditions of your contract after you sign it, raise them early. Once parties become entrenched in positions it is likely to be much more difficult and more stressful to resolve the issue. If you have concerns about your contract, contact Avant’s Medico-Legal Advisory Service on 1800 228 268.

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    Cautionary Tale

    Case study

     

    Check your contract

    A General Practice registrar was working in an accredited General Practice Training 2 (GPT2) position. He had signed a contract of employment with the practice.

    The trainee’s supervisor resigned from the practice, leaving the registrar without an appropriate supervisor working in that practice. As a result, the practice was no longer an accredited training practice. The Regional Training Provider (RTP) was supportive and arranged to provide the trainee with a placement in an alternate accredited training position.

    The practice asserted that the registrar had to honour his contract of employment. When the registrar told the practice about the new position it took a harsh view. It told the trainee that it considered the trainee was resigning from the position without notice, and therefore said it would not provide the registrar with benefits owed, such as annual leave.

    On review of the contract, it became clear that the trainee had signed a contract that was unsuitable for a trainee as it did not mention training and supervision requirements.

    After negotiation, the practice agreed to provide the registrar with the entitlements he was owed, and the registrar continued his training in another approved position.

    This case highlights:

    • When GP registrars sign contracts of employment, those contracts should specify that employment will only continue while there is a RTP approved supervisor, and while the practice has an ongoing approved training position. If these criteria are not met, the trainee should be allowed to seek employment elsewhere.
    • GP registrars working in a position that loses its training accreditation will probably no longer attract Medicare rebates for consultations. It’s an offence for doctors to see patients without access to Medicare benefits, unless they have informed the patients of this prior to a consultation.
    • It is important for registrars to maintain good relations with their RTPs, to ensure they may receive full support.
    • The training practice would have entered into an agreement with the RTP. It is expected that such an agreement would allow the RTP to withdraw accreditation as a training practice if it was no longer suitable - for example, when the only appropriate supervisor leaves the practice.