Associate agreements/Uber

Recruitment & HR
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Goodman Grant's Ray Goodman discusses how the recent Uber employment tribunal could cast doubt on current dental associate agreements

The recent Uber employment tribunal, in which it was ruled that the drivers were in fact employees of the taxi hailing company, rather than self-employed professionals as many assumed they were, has raised cause for concern in the dental profession. This precedent could have distinct ramifications in relation to the established practice of principals engaging associate dentists, hygienists and therapists in their dental practices, under what purports to be a license to use the premises on a self-employed basis.

The main issue here is tax-driven in that associates are generally accepted by HMRC as being self-employed. However, there have in the past been attempts to challenge this practice and it may be that – depending on the outcome of Uber’s inevitable appeal – that if the current judgement ultimately stands, HMRC could look afresh at associates as they could be seen as low-hanging fruit in regards to taxation. There are also employment law issues in that if an associate is found to be an employee, they would have rights not to be unfairly dismissed and would be eligible for maternity, paternity and other similar rights.

The judgement in the Uber case is forty pages long and it is the subject of an appeal so a detailed analysis wouldn’t be appropriate at this point. In general, though, the main criteria in determining whether, for the purposes of employment law and tax status, somebody is an employee – that is, working under a contract of employment rather than a contract for services (in the case of self-employed professionals) – is a matter of fact in each case.

One of the main determining factors is the degree of independence of the associate themselves – or, to put it the other way around, the amount of control the principal has over them. For example, is the associate obliged to work certain hours, achieve certain targets, or if it’s necessary for them to gain the consent from the principal for the timing and duration of their holidays. Other factors would be requirements by the principal for the associate to carry out their treatments in accordance with certain plans and pricing structures. In these days of increased regulation and CQC requirements, inevitably there are many more requirements for systems to be in place and adhered to, which could push an associate’s relationship with their principal further towards one of employment rather than one of self-employment.

The outcome of the Uber appeal is awaited with distinct interest; however, the judge in the initial employment tribunal case did specifically say that while they concluded, on the facts of the cases before them, that theirs was an employment relationship, it would have been possible for Uber to create a relationship that did not amount to employment if their documents and procedures were different.

The lesson to be taken from this is that it is more important than ever to ensure that associates’ agreements and, indeed, any other agreements with staff who are intended to be self-employed, should be reviewed by specialist lawyers – such as those at Goodman Grant – to ensure that the status of a principal and their associates’ working relationship is clear and properly protected.


Ray is joint managing director of Goodman Grant, lawyers for dentists. A lifetime career providing legal advice to dentists means that Ray has seen how the industry has changed – and how some things, such as making sure dentists have the best team of advisors possible, will never alter. His professional knowledge and experience is reflected in the recognition he has received from the industry – he is a member of the Association of Specialist Providers to Dentists (ASPD) and a past Chairman of the National Association of Specialist Dental Accountants and Lawyers (NASDAL). He can be contacted on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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