13 April 2024

Your words matter - Use of language and payroll tax for medical practices

Avant Law


Avant Law is a doctor-focused law firm that was originally established for our members in 2009 to provide the highest level of defence and protection in medical indemnity. It is now the largest medico-legal firm in Australia and continues to protect members for medical indemnity and employment issues and provide expert advice to help reduce the risk of a complaint or claim. With our deep understanding of medical practitioners and their practices and to help support doctors across life’s opportunities and challenges, we provide tailored legal services to address their personal, professional and business legal needs. Avant Law is a subsidiary of Avant Mutual (Avant) – Australia’s leading doctor organisation with a proud heritage of protecting the Australian medical professional for 130 years.
To avoid an unnecessary payroll tax exposure, ensure that the relationship between the doctor and the practice is clear.
Australia Tax
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If you have read any of our other articles about payroll tax, then you will know that one of the most important aspects of protecting your medical practice against an unnecessary payroll tax exposure is ensuring that the relationship between the doctor and the practice is as clear as possible. One of the main ways to do this is to ensure that the language used when discussing that relationship is accurate and appropriate.

We have outlined below some of the fundamental areas where practices are unnecessarily exacerbating this confusion and creating payroll tax exposure on their websites and social media. While we have included some examples of where this language can be improved, this article is not intended to be exhaustive and we strongly recommend that you get in touch to arrange a consultation to discuss your specific practice circumstances.

Each of these examples are based on the practice structure we encounter most commonly, whereby a doctor engages a practice to provide various services to that doctor (e.g., administration, billing, reception, appointment booking).

Team language

Practices commonly create payroll tax exposures by inadvertently misrepresenting the relationship between the practice and the doctor, particularly by using overly collegiate marketing language.

For example, while it may be helpful from a marketing perspective to highlight the caring nature of the services the doctor provides and in assuring the doctor's patients that they are in good hands, using collegiate language which implies that the doctor and the practice are a "team" or that they "work together" creates legal risk. The reality is that this is not the case, rather, the doctors and the practice are each operating separate and very distinct businesses. This can then create a payroll tax liability risk because the nature of that relationship is being publicly misstated.

Implication regarding provision of services and the relationship with patients

Another example of this collegiate marketing language that we encounter frequently is language that incorrectly implies that the practice is providing medical services to patients. While this, too, helps a website feel more approachable and friendly for readers, this could lead to confusion and an increased payroll tax liability risk. Practices should be careful to ensure that their marketing material makes clear that the patient does not have a relationship with the practice. Rather, all services the patient receives are provided by their doctor, with the practice simply providing administrative support services to the doctor.


Like any business, a medical centre often needs to advertise their offering to potential clients and customers. We have observed, though, that often these advertisements are framed as "recruitment" and use recruiting language.

Like with team language, recruitment language has the appeal of making the advertisement more readable and friendly. Unfortunately, this can also imply an employment relationship which would increase the likelihood of the relationship between the doctor and the practice being characterised to be subject to payroll tax.

Instead, these advertisements should be framed as an offer of facilities and services that are available to your key target market (whether that be allied health, general practitioners, medical specialists or a combination).

"Contractor doctors"

Many practices will (both informal written communication as well as general discussions) frequently refer to independent doctors as "contractor doctors".

An "independent contractor agreement" is used by a business to engage someone to provide services to the business. When this document is used, the person providing the services is a "contractor". Given the nature of an independent contractor agreement, they will often satisfy the criteria for a relevant contract and be subject to payroll tax.

This is a different model to what most medical practices will be operating under, namely where the practice is being engaged by the doctor to provide services to that doctor.  

The difficulty we have observed is that many practices are referring to doctors who engage their services as "contractor" doctors to try and emphasise the doctor's independence. However, this could actually have the opposite effect of increasing the risk that the relationship between the doctor and practice is misinterpreted and a payroll tax liability being imposed.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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