Donna Bailey, MSW was thrilled when Joe Green, LCSW asked her to share office space. Not only was Joe’s office in an established professional building in an excellent location, but also sharing space offered a chance to save on overhead costs. Donna’s only concern was her potential liability under this new arrangement - could either therapist be held responsible for the actions of the other by their respective patients?
Sharing office space is a common arrangement among therapists. The advantages are many: lowered costs, increased marketing potential, and regular access to colleagues. However, the one real disadvantage is that the social worker incurs a vicarious liability for the acts of other professionals. While you can be responsible for your own professional behavior, how can you be responsible for the actions of the other social workers in the office?
Office sharing arrangements should be done by formal agreement. The agreement should describe what is being shared, how costs will be allocated, and when payment is due. Any restriction on hours of use, special building regulations and internal housekeeping rules should be addressed as well. Be explicit about how the office operates; leave nothing to assumption.
Hold periodic meetings for the therapists and office staff to review office procedures. Review issues related to confidentiality and emergencies on a regular basis.
Be sure your clients understand how your office operates. Provide all your clients with a statement regarding your relationship with the other professionals in the office. Provide this same statement in your waiting room, too. It is not recommended that you operate under a common name, such as "Social Services Associates," unless your practice is formally organized as a partnership or corporation. Clients often misconstrue such informal arrangements as being evidence of a formal group, with its members having joint responsibility for all clients. Post information about how you are organized in the waiting area of the office where clients can see it.
Malpractice insurance must be considered in any shared office arrangements. Formally organized group practices must insure all its members under a master policy. However, individuals sharing space must carry separate malpractice policies, even if they use a common name for the practice. Therefore it is critical that all members provide a current copy of their insurance policy for the office files. No one should be allowed to practice in the office without having insurance in force.
More Practice Pointers