Have you ever found out a colleague was making more money than you – for no good reason? Or been stymied by an onerous restrictive covenant? Have you missed new job opportunities because of a 6 months’ notice requirement? All of these things can happen from not negotiating your employment contract.
And let’s face it. As physicians, many of us HATE negotiating. We don’t want to look greedy or beg. We avoid conflict and would rather just sign the darn thing and get it over with. Done.
In this blog, my aim is to empower you to feel more comfortable about negotiating your employment contract and offer you some advice from an expert.
Below is my interview with attorney Ms. Leigh Ann O’Neill, who specializes in assisting physicians with their job searches, employment contracts and licensing. Being married to a physician, and having worked extensively in healthcare, Ms. O’Neill is passionate about representing the interests of her physician clients. One of my clients who used Ms. O’Neill’s services highly recommended her to me. I do not personally have any type of affiliation with Ms. O’Neill but am happy to share her advice with you!
Q: When is it appropriate to negotiate a contract?
Ms. O’Neill: The short answer is – always! Employment contracts are inherently biased in favor of the employer. By not negotiating, you could be leaving significant money on the table and compromising your future with onerous terms. If you don’t ask, you will never know what is possible.
Q: Are there any times when it is not appropriate to negotiate?
Ms. O’Neill: If you have an offer letter which details specific, mutually agreed upon terms before a contract if offered, then it may be perceived as deceptive to try and change these terms. However, keep in mind that the inappropriateness here only arises from the fact that negotiations already took place and agreements were already made.
Q: What kind of approach to negotiations has the best chance of success?
Ms. O’Neill: The adage about catching more flies with honey rings true in many cases. When working on a client’s behalf to negotiate, we always do so in as amicable a fashion as possible. Knowing the importance and sometimes fragility of the employment relationship is key to approaching it reasonably and rationally. With that said, however, it is equally important to know your worth, market norms, and be clear on what you need and want in an employment setting.
Q: What should doctors pay more attention to in employment contracts?
Ms. O’Neill: Due to their long-term and serious implications, non-compete covenants are probably the most important (and potentially scary) aspects of an employment contract. Non-compete covenants literally have the power to dictate whether you are able to work and earn a living without relocating.
An aspect of employment contracts often overlooked relates to your schedule and practice location(s). Don’t assume that these things will stay the same. If an employer opens a new clinic location or asks you to round at additional hospitals, this could adversely affect your job satisfaction.
Q: Any specific advice on restrictive covenants?
Ms. O’Neill: Restrictive covenants or “non-competes” are governed by state law and there are rarely hard fast rules about them. In other words, many states rely on case law to determine if a case is valid or invalid. If you decide to challenge a restrictive covenant, there is rarely any sure way to know if you will be successful. Even if physicians in the past have gotten out of their non-competes, the court could decide differently in your case.
Q: Do you recommend physicians use an attorney to review their contract?
Ms. O’Neill: It’s advisable to have an attorney to review the contract if you have any questions about the content and do not feel comfortable negotiating on your own. If an employer suggests consulting an attorney is somehow wrong, or implies that they need the contract executed immediately consider this a major red flag. If an employer is pressuring you to sign without consulting your attorney, you may want to rethink going to work for them.
Q: Do you recommend that the attorney negotiate the contract for the physician, or should the physician speak with the employer directly?
Ms. O’Neill: This comes down to personal preference. We often negotiate with employers on our clients’ behalves, but there are many times where the physician does so directly. Often, physicians feel uncomfortable asking for more money, and they may also feel uncomfortable asking for changes to legal provisions that they don’t entirely understand. We often coach our clients on what to say and do, and then they are comfortable speaking directly to the employer. We can also help with crafting emails to send.
Q: What services do you offer and how can physicians contact you?
Ms. O’Neill: In addition to our contract review, we also provide a concierge-style job search service for physicians seeking clinical careers. We also offer a stream-lined state licensing service that makes that process as painless as possible for our physician clients. I can be reached in three different ways: firstname.lastname@example.org, (317) 989-4833, and at Lauth O’Neill Physician Agency. I’m more than happy to speak with any physician to see how I can be of service.
Before wrapping up this blog, I wanted to extend a warm thank-you to Leigh Ann O’Neill for her helpful interview and share a few thoughts.
Leigh Ann made a great point when she said how important it is to know your value and your needs and wants in a job. You will be a stronger negotiator when you have this clarity and when you also take the time to find out the needs, wants, and values of the other side. In his book, Getting More, Stuart Diamond describes this approach as, “being able to see the pictures in the other person’s head.” It’s a great technique that anyone can learn. I used it a week ago and with one phone call and an email, was able to save myself $5,000!
If you missed the other two blogs in this three-part series, you can read them here:
Please feel free to comment below and let me know about your negotiation successes and challenges!
In my next post on March 13th, I’m going to pull back the curtain on some of my own career challenges and take you behind the scenes of The Doctor’s Crossing.
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