As your private psychology practice grows and you find yourself reaching capacity you may consider hiring an associate. An associate can help your business expand and provide better and more consistent support to your clients. However, it is still your business and you’ll want to ensure you are hiring the right associate, under terms that work for both parties and for your patients. There are also some legal considerations to consider when taking on an associate to safeguard you and ensure you’re following best practices.
Here I provide a condensed guide on what you need to know when taking on an associate. However, if you need any further guidance or supporting legal contracts, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
1. Hiring An Associate
An associate at a private psychology practice may not be an employee, but the same hiring processes will often need to be applied.
You will need to ensure that your associate is licensed and holds the correct qualifications to fulfil the role.
You may also need to conduct a DBS check on potential associates.
Even if you are not employing your associate you’ll need to adhere to the UK Equality Act throughout the hiring process and your working relationship
When recruiting for the position, you will need to make the arrangement clear. This should include financial arrangements, working hours and the role and responsibilities, making it clear if this will not be an employed position.
2. An Associate Agreement
Since your associate will not be under an employment contract, you’ll need an associate agreement. Your associate agreement should outline the responsibilities of the practice and the associate. For instance, marketing of the practice and intake of patients would usually be the responsibility of the psychology practice, or you may task the associate with finding their own patients still working under the banner of your practice. Either way, this arrangement will likely be reflected in the salary arrangement.
An associate agreement should outline your working relationship, including:
What services the associate will provide
The fee arrangement
Working hours that stipulate there is no obligation to refer work to the associate
Intellectual property rights (more detail to follow)
The associate’s duty to adhere to data protection policies (more detail to follow)
Moreover, the associate agreement should emphasise that an associate is not an employee. You must state this clearly to ensure that you are not left responsible for PAYE and NI contributions. As a self-employed associate, this must be the responsibility of the associate and not the business.
This is a brief overview of the associate agreement but do read on for more detail relating to other considerations that should be covered in this document.
3. Data Protection
Any person handling data within your organisation needs to adhere to UK data protection. Yet, within psychology practices, it can be a little more complex.
Usually, an associate will be collecting data about the therapy clients themselves. They will need to do this if conducting therapy sessions and keeping records either on their or your patients. This would mean creating a flow of data collection and access between the associate and the practice and in this case, the associate would act as a data controller. More accurately, they would be a joint data controller, alongside you.
Yet, this may not always be the case. If the arrangement is that the clinic simply refers the client over to the associate with no further involvement then there is no longer a flow of data (other than the initial name and contact details of the patient).
Importantly, you may need to update your policy policy when you work with an associate. You may need to include a clause that states you may/can share personal and special category data with associates. You will need to get express consent to share sensitive data for this as well - so you may need to add a tick box to your client T&Cs, Read my blog for more information on data protection guidance for private psychology practitioners.
4. Fees and Obligations
Even if your associate is not an employee, you’ll want to establish a working relationship where terms and conditions are clear and fair to both parties. This means you’ll need to include a fee section in your associate agreement. You may pay the associate an hourly rate or a fee for therapy sessions. You may also set out an arrangement for referral fees.
Again, it is important to make clear that the associate is not an employee. Hence, they are self-employed and thus responsible for their own tax, NI contributions and HMRC/companies house administration as a sole trader or as a limited company depending on how they are operating.
It is also important to establish that your practice is not obligated to refer work to the associate. If you are not bringing in enough clients to support their needs and yours, then they are free to give notice to terminate the agreement but you are not in a position where you must transfer patients to them at the detriment of your business. On this note, it is important to bring an associate on board when you have reason to believe you can provide them with referrals. However, it is not advisable to commit to any specific number of referrals in your contract as you may find you are unable to fulfil this without putting your practice at risk.
Admittedly, this is a difficult clause to insert into a contract in a way that is fair and reasonable to both parties, which is why I do advise you to seek a commercial lawyer with experience working with private psychology practices who can assist you in drafting an associate agreement. If you wish to get in contact with me, I do have this experience and expertise and would be happy to help.
5. Intellectual Property
Intellectual property refers to ownership of any work created. In the case of employment, any work created by an employee in the scope of their employment belongs to the employer. However, when hiring an associate you will have to specify IP ownership terms in your associate agreement.
This may include therapy notes, presentations, handouts and other work created by the associate and it is up to you to decide whether you wish the ownership of such work to lie with the practice or be held by the associate. Whatever you deem to be fair, reasonable and workable will need to be included within your associate agreement.
Further Considerations For Private Psychology Practices Taking On An Associate
Bringing on an associate can be a mutually beneficial arrangement, but it requires careful planning, communication, and a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities. It's essential to consult with legal professionals to ensure that your practice complies with all relevant laws and regulations.
Beyond this though, you’ll want to consider what kind of working relationship you wish to have and how you protect your reputation and adhere to standards. Therefore, although an associate may not be an employee, you may want to consider their career progression in terms of working with your practice and you may even contemplate facilitating training and/or regular meetings to discuss professional development. Not only might this help your business hold onto an associate who is an asset but it may also help you to grow your business and provide even better care to your patients.