By sharing staff between neighbouring practices you may be able to make savings by utilising an arrangement such as a secondment or joint employment arrangement
A practice manager may have identified work time that is not currently being fully-utilised, which could be provided to another practice on a fee-charging basis. It could also be the case that a vacancy has been identified that requires filling by a practice, but it wishes to utilise the services of a skilled individual without having to employ one directly, or that neighbouring practices would like to jointly deliver a service provided by a shared staff member. By sharing staff between neighbouring practices – those operating from the same or nearby premises/building – it may be possible to make savings by utilising an arrangement such as a secondment or joint employment arrangement. Deciding which of these is most appropriate will depend on the practices’ business needs and the type of work to be carried out.
Under a secondment agreement an employee is provided on a ‘loan’ basis by their employer to another part of the same business (for example, to a branch surgery) or to a different business (for example, a neighbouring practice). This guidance focuses on staff sharing arrangements between two separate businesses.
The intention is that the secondment entails no change in employer; for example, Practice A is the employer, and continues to be the employer during the period of the employee’s secondment to the host employer, Practice B. The employee continues to be paid by Practice A, and the employee does not transfer employment to Practice B. The employee will return to Practice A at the end of the period of secondment. Essentially, a secondment will mean that Practice A remains the employer of the seconded employee, and the seconded employee’s contract of employment continues with them; the employee’s continuity of employment with Practice A remains unaltered.
Although the secondment entails no change in the employer, it is important that a written agreement is drawn up between Practice A and Practice B to enable Practice A to obtain payment from Practice B for the services of the seconded employee. Practice A will retain control and continue to be responsible for the seconded employee’s pay and benefits, management of holidays, sickness absence, maternity or adoption or paternity leave, other extended leave periods, disciplinary and grievance procedures (although information from Practice B may be required), appraisals (although information from Practice B may be required, eg. on target setting and performance assessment) and any expenses as per the terms of the contract of employment.
Potential benefits of secondments include:
- cost savings;
- allowing for a broadened skills base within an organisation, and identifying and sharing best practice;
- building/enhancing relations and links with other practices;
- addressing staff shortages and staff excesses;
- offering employees personal and career development opportunities;
- time-limited, enabling both practices to review their business needs on a periodic basis.
Potential pitfalls of secondments include:
- overcoming practical problems;
- could there be uncertainty and confusion as to the arrangement?
- the employee being ill-suited for the secondment as s/he does not have the necessary skills or, conversely, the employee preferring to work at the host practice, and so may wish to leave Practice A to become an employee of Practice B;
- evaluating the success of the secondment.
In a joint employment situation an employee is appointed by more than one employer, and a joint contract of employment is held between the employee and the relevant employers. An employee is jointly employed if their offer letter of appointment, and contract of employment, clearly state that they have more than one employer. The offer letter and contract would state who the employers are, eg., ‘Practice A and Practice B’. An employee is not jointly employed if their contract of employment is with a single practice, even if the practice states that the employee is required to work for another practice. The joint employers should, ideally, set out their obligations/requirements in a service level agreement between them to avoid uncertainty and misunderstanding
Potential benefits of joint employment include:
- it may be easier to attract an employee with specialist skills / specialising in a niche area;
- an employee may prefer to work full-time under a joint contract, rather than part-time for one practice and part-time for another;
- joint employment may allow for flexibility so that some weeks the employee dedicates more time at one practice and, at other periods, does more work at the other;
- cost savings;
- shared control by the joint employers, eg., the taking of annual leave, the work schedule.
Potential pitfalls of joint employment include:
- Overcoming practical problems – could there be confusion as to the arrangement?
- If the two practices have completely different employment/contractual arrangements, how will they agree on the applicable terms and conditions, such as sick pay and annual leave?
- Which collective agreements will apply?
- Who would the employee complain to about a grievance in connection with one of the practices?
- In a disciplinary situation, who would manage the process and make the decisions?
- What if one practice wanted to issue a sanction, or dismiss, and the other did not?
- Employment tribunal claims against both practices although the dispute was with only one of them.
- How will the practices determine their responsibilities/liabilities in the event of a dispute?
- What happens if one of the joint employers wishes to end the arrangement, perhaps because they are no longer providing a particular service, but the other practice does not? Will the latter take on full responsibility for the employee so that there is no shortfall in working hours and pay?
For more information from the BMA click here.