Veterinary employment contracts should be a win-win agreement (Proceedings)

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Veterinary employment contracts should be a win-win agreement (Proceedings)

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Nov 01, 2010

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 necessary.

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 negotiated.

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.