Employees Vs Independent Contractors in Dentistry

Dentist office


From Dentistry Today, Dr. Davis discusses the standards for classifying a worker as an employee or independent contractor, reviewed the recent California decision, and identifies the risks in dental practices. Dr. Davis writes:

Vulnerability for Dental Professionals

The cited IRS rules have been in standing for many years. The same is true for many states’ designations on worker status. Potential fines and penalties against violating employers are a serious matter, yet violations and abuses persist within the dental industry.

We see this problem among small practice owners as well as some larger corporate DSOs. The misclassification of employees as independent contractors extends to dentists, registered dental hygienists, dental assistants, and office staff, as well as workers within the insurance industry.5 Violator owners may include brick-and-mortar dental clinics, mobile dental clinics, and temporary employment (locum tenens) agencies.

Levels of student loan debt have reached a level of near debt bondage for far too many serving in the dental profession. Some are forced to assume any work, under any conditions, to service debt loads. Sadly, the practice of indentured servitude has apparently been reborn in the United States.

Further, numbers of dental facilities retain foreign nationals who are dependent upon clinic ownership to either sponsor their work visa status or ignore an undocumented status. Some owners play by the rules. Others establish a variety of schemes to take advantage of these guest workers.

Certainly, recent steps taken by the CDA to highlight these workplace abuses didn’t occur in a vacuum. In 2015, I interviewed attorney David Sohn, who prevailed in a legal precedence-setting labor law case against a DSO that is California’s largest employer of dentists.

Immediately upon the court’s ruling and the DSO’s decision not to appeal, Sohn contacted the CDA’s chief legal counsel. He offered to write up a report for the state dental journal on the meanings of the justices’ ruling.

“The CDA’s top legal officer informed me that the CDA would not grant my request because doing so would be taking an adverse position against many of their readers, who are employers,” Sohn said.

Hopefully, as evidenced by the recent publications of the CDA on workplace rights for dental professionals, perspectives and attitudes in the leadership of the CDA have matured. No group within organized dentistry merits survival if it’s willing to sell out member doctors.


Regardless of federal and state statutes, as well as legal rulings, workplace abuses continue today in a wide variety of dental employment settings. Raising awareness as exemplified by the recent work of the CDA is to be lauded. More is needed, especially on a national level.

If a dental owner offers a dental professional a position as “independent contractor,” it’s usually a misrepresentation of valid employment designation. It’s frequently a mechanism to cheat employees as well as state and federal taxation. Such dental owners are not to be trusted, especially misrepresenting on such a basic issue like the difference between employees and independent contractors.

If a doctor is proffered a position as nominal dental facility “owner” (sham-owner), strings are always attached. Are the beneficial owners attempting to circumvent FICA taxation and state labor laws relating to mandatory work breaks, lunch breaks, and overtime? Is the sham-owner dentist tasked with sponsorship liability, oversight, and possible workplace abuse of foreign nationals operating under work visas or undocumented? Is the bogus title of owner a mechanism to restrict an employee doctor’s potential future employment (restrictive employment covenant)? Is the sham designation of owner a wall of fraud and liability protection favoring the corporate beneficial ownership?

If someone (or some company) is unethical and willing to operate outside the law for their benefit (and your possible detriment), how can they be trusted on other workplace issues? What will be the next deception or misrepresentation? What length will they go to place you further in harm’s way to maximize their financials to your disadvantage? Don’t be a patsy for such deplorable types.

Our responsibility is to alert colleagues, students, and the entire dental team. Dental employment workplace abuses are not to be tolerated. This definitely includes misclassification of employees as independent contractors or even as owners.

Read the full story at Employees Vs Independent Contractors in Dentistry | Dentistry Today

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