Do I Have A Right To Expel My Partner?
Date: 11/03/2015 | Healthcare
We have been consulted by a number of medical practices recently where disagreements between partners have escalated to the point where the partners cannot work together any more.
The cause of disagreements vary (some recent examples include disagreement over a partner’s behaviour in the practice, the handling of GMC investigations and a partner’s dealings with staff) but what they all have in common is that the disagreements, over time, led to a majority of partners wishing to expel another. Sound familiar? The problem is this: not all partnerships have the right to expel.
What many GPs (and practice managers) don’t realise is that the default legal position is that partners in partnership together do not have an automatic legal right to expel another partner, no matter how “bad” his behaviour is perceived to be*. The right to expel only exists if the partners have agreed to that in writing – i.e. in a partnership agreement that governs the relationship between them.
In our experience, lawyers are only consulted when the dispute between the doctors reaches a point of no return. We understand the rationale behind this – no-one wants to pay professional fees unless really necessary. However, I would strongly advise any doctor to consult us as soon as they feel a dispute may be brewing. That way, we can consider whether a partnership agreement is in place, and what rights you have under it.
For example, your partnership agreement may give you the right to suspend a partner if you feel their presence is disruptive (to patients or staff). If you have the right to expel a partner, you are likely to only be able to do so under certain circumstances, for example where they are guilty of gross misconduct or have neglected their partnership duties. Your partnership agreement will hopefully also set how what percentage of partners must agree to a suspension or expulsion. It is vital that these matters are checked in advance, and discussed with your lawyer to ensure that you can plan ahead.
If you don’t have a right to expel a partner (and disregarding any action the GMC may take), what are your options? You could choose to resign – what does your partnership agreement say about notice? It may be that you have to give 3 or even 6 months’ notice to resign. If your fellow partners are also looking for a way out, they may also be considering resignation. Beware, some agreements don’t allow two or more partners to resign at the same time. Alternatively, and as what I’d suggest is usually a last resort, the partnership could be wound up. I’d always recommend talking to your lawyers and the Health Board before winding up the practice – as well as your legal obligations (to your partners, your staff, your landlord and any other parties who have contracted with the partnership), you are required to give the Health Board notice as they will have to make alternative arrangements for your practice.
If you don’t have a partnership agreement, or you feel yours should be updated, I would advise taking action now. Putting in place a good, up to date partnership agreement now should save you a lot of difficulty (and money) in the long run.
If you have any questions in connection with the matters raised in this article, or to discuss partnership agreements in general, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
*This is of course subject to the separate rights that the partners may have to refer the partner’s conduct to the GMC.