Pathology Employment Contracts: What To Know Before You Sign

by | Jul 14, 2017 | Education, Residents | 1 comment

Every Pathology Employment Contract Is Unique

Just like each laboratory is unique, their employment contracts are also unique.  Depending on what type of job you are looking eeor, your contract may focus on different things. Narrowing down practice types by academics or private practice is a start.  Though not an exhaustive list, here are a few more ways of differentiating pathology practice settings:

  • Academic Tenure Track
  • Academic Clinical Track
  • Private Practice, Corporate Lab
  • Private Practice, Employee/New-in-Practice
  • Private Practice, Lab Partnership

Each of these settings will have unique portions of their employment contract.  Some contracts may have small differences while others will have entire pages of unique material (i.e. research expectations, profit sharing).

Should Your Contract Be Reviewed By An Attorney/Lawyer?

As a rule of thumb, residents should have their contracts reviewed by an attorney before signing.  This is not a hard and fast rule but it is helpful if you have limited experience reading contracts (like most of us).  Your training program or GME office may have an association with a local attorney where they can review contracts at a cheaper rates.  Ask your program coordinator if there is someone who can review your contract.  Something else to consider is to find an attorney in the state you will be working in. They will know specifics about practicing in that state better than someone from out of state.  You can also ask a friend of family member with a critical eye to look over your contract.  Either way, it’s always a good idea to have a third party check it out.

Rule of thumb #1: Residents should have their contracts reviewed by an attorney before signing

What’s Not Included in Your Contract

Not everything that you are looking for in a job will be included in your contract.  There are lots of questions you should ask at the interview to help you get to know the practice but everything that’s said isn’t “contractable” (Did I just make up a word?).  You should know how vacation is structured and how much time you’ll be given but you don’t need to includes specific days.  Rule of thumb is if there is anything you think is a deal breaker for working there, include it in the contract.  Otherwise, don’t be surprised about what is left out.

For a list of questions to ask at a pathology job interview, see this great post from Rashna Meunier, MD.  

Rule of thumb #2: Any deal-breakers that would make you not want to work there should be included in the contract

Letter of Intent

The strength of commitment from a Letter of Intent is somewhere between sincere handshake and an Employment Agreement. Legally, a Letter of Intent does not hold as much weight as an Employment Agreement or Contract.  Personally, I would give the same consideration to a letter of intent.  Backing out from a Letter of Intent will only look bad on you.  Pathology is a small world and you don’t want to carry around a reputation for backing out on your word.  Pathology groups that back out of Letters of Intent will also suffer from a poor reputation.

Rule of thumb #3: Treat the Letter of Intent like a contract

What’s In a Pathology Employment Contract?

Below you’ll find links to generic pathology employment contracts from various practice settings.  I’ll summarize the basic content of the contracts here:

  • Introduction: Who is this agreement between? Company ABC contracts with Employee Dr. John Brown.  After that, the agreement with use a shorter name when referring to either party.
  • Term: How long does this agreement last?
  • Duties and Responsibilities: What are your basic responsibilities?  The key word here is basic.  It may only state that you will perform the duties of a pathologist.  If you are concerned about losing duties that you prefer or gaining duties that you absolutely don’t want to do, this would be a good place to make your wishes known.  Remember to be flexible though!  If this is your first job, you probably don’t want to make a counter offer that significantly restricts your responsibilities.  Strike a balance.
  • Qualifications and Licensure: To remain employed, you’ll be expected to maintain your qualifications.  This includes, licensure, CME, Obey Laws and Employee Rules & Regulations.
  • Salary, Bonuses, Benefits: Here’s where it’s all about the money.  Not only does this section include your salary but it should also address how you earn a bonus.  Are your moving expenses reimbursed? How generous is the education fund?  What can you spend your education fund on (i.e. books, meetings, travel, membership fees)?  How are you reimbursed?
  • Malpractice Coverage: With our without a tail?
  • Time Off: How many days off do you get?  How is time off structured (i.e. weekly, daily)?  Is there hierarchy when requesting time off?  How are conflicts resolved?
  • Termination of Agreement: Here are all the ways that you can get fired.  It’s broken down into With or Without Cause, which, depending on how you’re fired, will determine what benefits you receive after they fire you. It’s a long section in most contracts but it’s pretty straight forward.  Don’t break the law and don’t be a complete jerk and you’ll be totally fine.
  • Non-Competition: This is the so called “non-compete clause.”  Become familiar with this section before you sign the agreement.  Corporate labs may word this section in a way that makes it so you can’t work near any of their locations nationally.  Some states have laws that make this section unenforceable but companies still include is as a fear factor.  Understand what your “restricted period” means, what locations it includes, and how long it lasts.
  • Miscellaneous: This is the section for anything else left over.  It can include some surprising details.  It also wraps up the contract by defining all the legal terms used in the document.  Don’t ignore it.  This is where a lawyer or attorney is particularly helpful.

Contracts Are Not Standard For Everyone

You never have to accept when someone says “this comes standard in every contract.”  This is an agreement between you and your group, not with anyone else.  You can cross out any section or line that you want and initial where you made the cross out.  You can request more information be added to the final contract as well.  Contracts are negotiable.

Rule of thumb #4: Expect to negotiate your contract

Negotiation Style Depends on Years in Practice

You will need to negotiate but depending on the situation (i.e. first job, capstone career move), you may want to change your negotiation style.  Early in your career don’t be as aggressive and dispute every line in the contract.  Be flexible with certain things. Later in your career, you have much more experience and should be recognized for that.  Make sure a late career move fits you as best as possible.

Example Pathology Employment Contracts

Pathology Employment Contract #1 (Courtesy of the CAP, with explanatory footnotes)

Pathology Employment Contract #2

Pathology Employment Contract #3

Comment and Subscribe!

What has your experience been in creating, signing, or negotiating pathology employment contracts?  Please let us know in the comments below.  Look for an article about Pathology Service Contracts in the future.  Subscribe to Pathspective so you don’t miss it!