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Associate dentists and employment status

A recent decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal poses questions on whether associate dentists in England and Wales have some rights, such as rights in relation to protection from discrimination.

An associate bought a claim of unlawful discrimination against Rodericks. Self-employed people can still have protection against discrimination if they are found by the tribunal to be what is known as a “worker”.

This case suggests that associates engaged under some associates agreements are workers and therefore have some rights, including in relation to discrimination. More recent versions of dental associate agreements, including the BDA model and the latest Rodericks associate agreement, guard against such a finding.

We recently conducted workshops with associates and practice owners to gauge their views as to whether the dental community wanted a change in status of associate dentists. The majority felt that their independence as self-employed practitioners was important to them, and they did not want a change in status.

Members should note that these cases are expensive to run and time-consuming to prepare for. Outcomes are far from certain. Costs are not awarded. The best outcomes are where problems are solved by discussion at an early stage. We have a mediation service for members which has been effective at helping parties to reach an agreement.

Associates in Scotland and Northern Ireland are in a different situation, largely because associates in Scotland and Northern Ireland who perform NHS dental services have their own NHS contracts. While it may be less likely a tribunal will find that they are workers, many of the principles in the Rodericks judgment will still apply.

We are currently assessing the implications of this case for members. Our advice teams are happy to advise members who may be affected.