Employment contracts exist even if they are not in writing. The problem with oral contracts is in trying to enforce them.
Contracts require a meeting of the minds of two persons followed by some form of payment for enforceability. Employees, although
commonly intimidated, must realize they are on equal footing with the employer. To increase the employee's power in the negotiation,
they must have some knowledge of the industry standards of veterinary employment terms.
Many terms are negotiable. Negotiated terms should include at least the number of hours worked, the appropriate pay, the
time off and the benefits offered. The current average hours worked are about 45 per week. The pay will vary for type of practice
and geographical location. The benefits vary from practice to practice and tend to vary with the compensation plan and the
size of the practice.
Employees maybe allowed a flexible work schedule, if they ask and compromise. One example of a flex schedule is to work longer
days and have more clusters of days off. The negotiation point is to be willing to rotate the same or similar type shifts
with the other doctors. This will include offering to rotate weekend work schedules, including some emergency schedules if
The compensation choices should include a discussion of not only the pay, but also the variability of benefits. This negotiation
may result in a higher net take home pay, if some benefits are taken as pre-tax dollars. With more pre-tax benefits there
may be less net take home dollars but more employee benefits after tax, for personal use.
The employee benefits that are common for employees are medical insurance and liability insurance and continuing education
expense reimbursement allowance. The employee may need a company car, a retirement plan or even some reimbursement of medical
expenses not covered by the company medical plan. The issues of getting a company car and/or other family expense reimbursement
as pre-tax benefits, may depend on the size of the company that you choose to work for and the flexibility the owner has relative
to his or her own personal benefits and the employee's willingness to negotiate.
To allow further quality of life for the employee and the practice, following are some additional topics that should be included
in the employment contract negotiations. Employee-employer contracts usually average 10-15 typed pages in length. The topics
to negotiate include use of company equipment, company retreats and the terms of the non-compete agreement. An agreement should
also be reached on any required or recommended employee community involvement for public service or public relations benefit,
for the employer if the employer so desires.
Some employees have pets that require veterinary care and testing. If there is an agreement on the use of the company equipment
and facilities for personal use, this can be a great benefit to the employee. This hospital usage would be a pre-tax benefit,
so it has a greater value to the employee. If the company has a time share or a cabin, that could be used for staff retreats,
the employee may get use of them, for the employee's family, another non-taxable benefit.
The non-compete agreement is a very important part of the employment agreement. The employee should be sure to discuss an
acceptable distance and time for the terms of the agreement. If the practice includes large animal care the distance may be
up to 50 miles or more. If the practice is for small animals the area should be much smaller usually only 3 to 5 or 10 miles
in range depending where the practice is located.
Employees may end up surprised or frustrated after 6 months to 18 months into an employment situation, when the employer asks
them to become involved in service clubs in the community, either by joining or speaking. If this has not been discussed ahead
of time, when the contracts are negotiated, there may be one party unwilling to comply. If community service is pre-planned,
it can be negotiated as to whether some work time is allowed for preparation and/or presentation for the service club work
and for the time away from family.
Employees must understand contracts are very important for their enjoyment of their chosen profession and they should not
be avoided, but rather viewed as the beginning of a working relationship. Even the methods of dispute resolution should be
Long term pleasant and successful employment should start with a win-win employment contract. Employment contracts should
be an employee's friend and not a dreaded document accepted in tough negotiation.