Article Date: 9/1/2013

Contract Negotiations: How to Stay on Top of Your Game

Contract Negotiations: How to Stay on Top of Your Game

By Ryan Corte, OD

images Dr. Corte is a graduate of The Ohio State University College of Optometry and completed a post-graduate residency in Primary Care and Ocular Disease at the Illinois College of Optometry. A past president of the American Optometric Student Association and current member of the American Optometric Association Student and New Graduate Committee, he splits time between two private practices in metropolitan Charlotte, NC.

Fresh out of school, you may not have as much leverage as you think when it comes to negotiating your job contract. Nonetheless, there are a number of terms you should consider negotiating that could be to your advantage.

Employment Terms

Compensation: How and when you’re compensated must be spelled out. Many associates are initially offered a daily or yearly salary. Another option is compensation based on a percentage of your gross production, however, employers often wait for their employee to be fully credentialed before putting this into effect. While a production compensation system may have more initial risk, it can also lead to greater financial returns over time if you’re successful in your role. In addition, be sure you know up front if you’ll be paid weekly, every other week or monthly.

Benefits: Raises, production bonuses, paid vacation time, insurance (including malpractice, disability, medical, life and general liability), retirement plans, continuing education and professional association dues should all be considered. In general, it may be in your best interest to accept a lower salary if you’re offered a strong benefits package.

Hours: Are you working evening hours? Weekends? Will you be on call? Does your employer expect you to work more than 40 hours per week? If so, do you get overtime or is this included in your salary? Since the days of working 9 to 5, Monday through Friday are essentially obsolete, all of these items need to be clearly documented in your contract.

Contract Time Limit

A standard optometric contract has a 1-year initial term with the option to renew annually (providing the flexibility to renegotiate terms or walk away). Often overlooked is the amount of advance notice required to sever the relationship without cause. Often, 30 to 90 days is advised because this is an ample period of time to adjust accordingly. Less than 30 days could leave you unemployed if an unexpected termination occurs, while greater than 90 days may delay your ability to transition if a better opportunity arises.

Practice Commitment

Are you being compensated based solely on seeing patients or do you have additional responsibilities? You may be assigned other obligations, such as updating the practice’s social media pages or fulfilling administrative roles. You may be required to join local organizations outside the practice to get your name out there and attract new patients.

Non-compete Clause

Two to three miles (for an urban setting) or 4 to 6 miles (for a metropolitan/rural setting) over 2 to 3 years is a reasonable non-compete clause. Consider renegotiating if your clause is more stringent. Often these do not hold up in court, but it’s best to save yourself the legal fees and make sure you negotiate a rational non-compete clause before signing a contract.

Buy-in Clause

If a practice transition or partnership was discussed during negotiations, this must be put in writing. Just as you learned in school with patient charts, if it wasn’t documented, it didn’t happen. The terms of the buy-in are often left open for negotiation when the time comes.

Play Fair

All things considered, I feel the most important aspect in negotiating a contract is to ensure that it’s fair to both parties. A win-win scenario will facilitate a positive start at your new workplace and set you up for a promising future. Last but not least, make sure to have a lawyer or trained professional familiar with optometric contracts review all documents before you sign. nOD

Optometric Management, Issue: September 2013, page(s): S-6