Associate Dentist and Dental Hygienist: Employee or independent contractor?



The California Dental Association (CDA) offers guidance on the classification of associates and dental hygienists in a dental practice.  It states:

It’s not uncommon for Practice Support to receive questions regarding the classification of registered dental hygienists. When considering an employment status for an RDH, generally this individual worker would not meet the definition of independent contractor. The nature of an RDH’s work is largely dependent on the diagnosis and direction of the treating dentist, has little control over the practice schedule, is provided tools and is expected to be integral to the practice’s overall business. Given this, it is advisable that employers err on the side of caution and classify RDHs as W-2 employees to avoid any risk of misclassification.

Misclassification of an employee creates a potential liability for employment taxes and penalties and liability for failure to fulfill the many legal obligations owed to an employee, such as unpaid overtime or meal- and rest-break violations.

Before classifying an employee, employers should consider the following factors:

  • The individual takes instructions from you or a manager regarding when, where and how work is completed.
  • The individual receives training from your practice, is required to attend meetings and is expected to abide by practice policies.
  • The practice is somewhat dependent on the type of service provided by the individual.
  • The individual must personally perform the contracted services.
  • The practice supplies support staff (DA, RDA) to assist the individual.
  • The individual provides ongoing services to the practice.
  • The practice determines the individual’s work hours.
  • The expected duration of the relationship is long term.
  • The individual performs the work on practice premises.
  • The practice provides equipment, tools or other supplies to the individual.
  • The practice has the right to discharge the individual.
  • The individual may terminate his or her services at any time without penalty.

If the employer marked several boxes above, it’s likely that the person is an employee and not an independent contractor.

Enforcement efforts to combat misclassification are on the rise and the obligation to prove an individual is not an employee is placed squarely on the shoulders of the employer. Questions surrounding the legitimacy of an existing independent contractor-employment relationship can arise in many forms, including:

  • Filings for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits
  • Claims for unpaid wages
  • High Form-1099 volume
  • Claims for workers’ compensation injuries
  • Charges of employment discrimination
  • Investigations by the IRS, the Department of Labor, the Department of Industrial Relations and Employment Development Department to audit wage payments, workers’ compensation coverage and unemployment insurance fund contributions

Read the full story at Employee or independent contractor?

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