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Associates: Helping you plan for maternity leave

What you need to know about maternity and parental leave as a self-employed associate.

James Goldman
James Goldman Associate Director of Advisory Services, BDA

Planning for maternity and parental leave can be complex and stressful. Here we’ve pulled together advice on how self-employed associates can prepare and hopefully keep stress to a minimum.

Be aware of your contractual obligations

The majority of dental associates are self-employed and our recent focus groups suggest that, on the whole, associates are happy to remain that way. It provides tax benefits and gives associates greater control over their work and careers. However, when you’re self-employed, it’s your responsibility to provide cover for periods of extended leave. This includes maternity and parental leave. That’s why, most associates have a ‘locum clause’ included in their employment agreements.

Practice owners can always invoke the locum clause.

Finding a locum is not always simple, and it’s important that you are aware of this and how to navigate it. It usually suits both parties better to agree that the practice takes care of locum arrangements. This allows the practice to have control over who joins their workplace, and enables the associate to take maternity leave without having to worry about the locum. However, it is not always so straightforward and practice owners can always invoke the locum clause.

Discrimination and the ‘locum clause’

As a result of fewer dentists choosing to provide NHS dental services, it is now often more difficult for practices to find a locum for associates providing NHS care. We have recently seen cases where practice owners are therefore choosing to evoke the locum clause. This places the burden of finding a locum, or compensating the practice for its losses, on the associate taking maternity leave. Associates who find themselves in this position may be caught off guard.

Naturally, this is a highly sensitive issue and raises questions as to the rights associates have in relation to claims of discrimination. Some associates have made claims against practices owners, on the basis of being financially penalised for having to take maternity leave. These cases are far from legally straightforward, since the practice owner is relying on an existing term in the associate agreement.

Working with your practice

Recruitment problems are very real, whether the practical responsibility falls on the practice owner or the associate. Having these discussions early on can help you avoid difficulties. While there aren’t always simple solutions, early discussions about covering maternity leave reduce the stress and risk for both parties. This way, hopefully an agreement acceptable to all parties can be reached well in advance, and you can look forward to your maternity leave knowing those practicalities are taken care of.

Discussions early on can help you avoid difficulties.

When contacted about such issues, our advice team always emphasise – to practice owners and associates alike – the importance of timely communication. Practices are urged to consider the need for a good, long-term relationship with their associates. This requires open communication and flexibility, particularly in cases involving medically challenging pregnancies. Indeed, it is important that all parties understand and respect each other's positions and find a way to reach a practical and sensible way forward.

We’re here for you

Pregnancy can be a challenging, as well as joyful, time. If you find yourself in a difficult situation at work, remember our team are here to advise you.