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Dental Hygienist Employee Rights – The Must Have Info

What are your rights as a contracted employee?

Dental hygienist contracts will make your rights as an employee clear.

Imagine this scenario. First, you do a thorough job search, then you reply to a few interesting ads. You even have a couple of successful interviews. Eventually, you receive a job offer overseas and hear that a contract will soon follow.

How do you know if the contract will protect your employee rights?

If you know another dental hygienist working overseas who can help you know your employee rights, then great. They may even lend you their contract in order to compare. But what if you don’t know anyone? What if you are on your own and with no real guidance in this respect?

First of all, don’t worry. In this article, we explain the most important things to address in your contract and the reasons why.

Your Employee Rights as a Dental Hygienist

Part 1 of our series on international contracts focuses on the benefits of actually having a contract. This post (Part 2) focuses on you as the employee and your rights, while Part 3 focuses on your employer’s duties.

I base this advice on dental hygiene contracts that I have personally held over the years. Even if your contract is in a foreign language, it should still include these basic parts.

Your Personal Information

The opening section of any contract should include specific information about the “Contracting Parties”—name and address, employee date of birth, etc. You just need to confirm that all of your and your employer’s details are correct.

Your future employer could insert a caveat or legal “preamble” at the start of your contract. Mine read this way: ‘This contract is legally binding as long as the dental hygiene education in the USA is recognized as equal to the dental hygiene training of Germany’.

Read: our crucial guide to starting out life as a dental hygienist.

Your Title and Duties

Name: It should clearly state that you are a dental hygienist, to clear up any ambiguities. For example, this is important in Germany because the country has various preceptorship levels, titles and credentials, all allowing for dental assistants to treat patients.

Your employment start date: This is very important in Europe, as many benefits come into effect based on this date.

Job duties: Some employers are pickier than others (in Germany, specifically) about specifying your job duties. This is due, in part, to the lack of regulation of the profession. Many have no clear idea of what a dental hygienist does or how they contribute to the dental team. So if you receive an unusual list of responsibilities, don’t be too surprised!

However, if your employer knows the practice of dental hygiene well, this job duties part may not even be included. For instance, the standard Swiss SSO contract does not include this.

Radiograph certification: Being able to take radiographs is not always a given. For example, to be x-ray-certified in Germany, a three-day course is required. This is despite the fact that your degree already grants you x-ray certification.

This x-ray safety course costs around €500 but your employer should pay for this. I have never taken the course, but I know other US-trained dental hygienists who have. I simply do not take radiographs in the practice.

Dental Hygienist Obligations

Aside from employee rights, contracts also deal with the the dental hygienist’s professional behavior. These are the usual employee obligations, similar to those in North American healthcare practices.

They include, but are not be limited to, a neat appearance, professionalism, cleanliness, respecting privacy of the patients and the business (even after the employment relationship ends), responsibility for any damages that you may cause, respecting the company’s telephone and internet usage policies, etc.

Note: You must hold patients’ information in the strictest of confidence. Privacy protection is really big in Europe and the consequences for violating it are severe.

Professional liability insurance: In Switzerland, your employer has liability insurance and this also covers you. In Germany, I’ve never even heard a reference to it. But, since everything else you can imagine is insured here, I can’t believe that this would not be as well.

Whether your liability insurance from the US or Canada is valid for your practice abroad is a fact that you should clarify before you move over.

Standard Probation Period

This will also be similar to what you are used to in North America. The average probation period is three months. This is the norm in a Swiss SSO hygiene contract.

Other privately drafted contracts may differ in probation periods. I received a six-month probationary period twice in Germany. The longer you stay on probation, the more time the employer buys to avoid paying for your benefits, i.e., four to six weeks of vacation. It also increases the time you your job is not secured.

Employee Work Schedule Rights As A Dental Hygienist

This section must be clear to all parties and ideally in writing. Switzerland uses a percentage-based description to quantify your working amount. For example, a five-day work week is said to be 100%, whereas a three-day work week is considered to be 60%. Germany does not follow this rule, per se. Whatever the case, your daily start and end times must be clear for your own benefit.

Some companies (mostly Switzerland) will pay you a salary, while others (mostly Germany) will pay you based on your clock-in/out times. Some offices may also require notice and approval before you are allowed to hold another job while they employ you.

If you are offered salary as compensation, be sure that your salaried hours include your set-up time at the start of the day and your break-down time at the end.

If your salary is based on an 8 to 5 = 8 hours schedule, you likely will not be compensated for set-up or next-day prep. That is not really fair to you. A better option would be a 745 – 17h15 schedule. This schedule includes time for set-up and break-down.

Sample Dental Hygienist Work Schedule

Here is a sample salary work schedule that I had in Switzerland, that I consider very fair:
Mo 07.45 – 12.00/ 13.00-17.15, Tues 07.45 – 12.00/ 13.00-17.15, Wed 07.45 – 12.00/ 13.00-17.15, Thurs 07.45 – 12.00/ 13.00-17.15, Friday and Saturday off. 34 hours with set-up and break-down, 80 percent.

As you can see, the framework for working as a hygienist overseas is quite similar to what we are used to in North America.

Discover what it’s really like to work in a European dental office.

Dental Hygienist Salary Rights

The percentage system is important for Switzerland because your salary is paid based on the maximum amount that you could earn for 42 hours, or 100%.

For example, if 42 hours is full-time and is compensated at CHF 6,500 and you work only one day – or 20% of a full workweek – you will be paid 20 percent of this CHF 6,500.

The average salary for a dental hygienist in Germany is around €22 to €37 per hour and is mostly unregulated. The average salary for a new hygienist in Switzerland is CHF 4679 to CHF 5211 per month.

These salaries are comparable to US and Canadian salaries but the benefits and employee rights in Europe far outweigh what the average dental hygienist receives in North America. Most hygienists I know work fewer than 40 hours in both countries. The average is a two- to four-day week.

In Germany, there exists an insurance plan to protect your rights as an employee. This would be necessary if, for example, your employer changes the contract without your approval or if the employer does not keep to their end of the deal. You could use this employee rights insurance to request legal representation and argue your case.

Learn more about the cultural aspects of living and working in Europe.

Standard Vacation Employee Rights

Most European countries mandate at least four weeks of vacation for all employees. A dental hygienist will likely receive an offer of five to six weeks vacation from an employer.

Contract Termination

This is probably the most important point when discussing contracts and employee rights, and a dental hygienist contract is no different.

You and your employer should be able to discuss this matter openly at the outset. You both are likely entering into this agreement with the best of intentions and with the hopes that a good and long-lasting working relationship will ensue. But of course, life doesn’t always work out that way. Europe is known for long contract termination periods so be prepared.

Switzerland usually works on a three month notice period, while Germany usually has a four week or one month notice period. The termination of the contract may be able to be submitted only on the 15th or 30th/31st of the month. Be sure to take note of this detail. This is all, of course, after you have fulfilled your probationary period.

During your probation, the notice period is usually from 7 to 14 days.

A long notice period could well work in your favor, as you never know how long it will take to find a new job.

However, I’ll admit that three months is a long and painful period of time to have to endure a job you don’t even want to get out of bed for. I assure you though, it can be and has been done.

Featured photo courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

Employee rights and contracts as a dental hygienist – Disclaimer

The advice in this blog is based strictly on personal experience. I am neither a lawyer nor an immigration expert. Please consult a lawyer, legal professional and/or an immigration official if in doubt. Do so before, during and after your negotiations with your potential employer. Additionally, be sure to do due diligence regarding employment laws, customs, and immigration policies in the country in which you plan to work. The advice given here is no guarantee of success, even if you follow the advice explicitly. There are always many variables at play, and each circumstance is unique.