Black Sabbath: Religious discrimination when hiring a new veterinary associate

Black Sabbath: Religious discrimination when hiring a new veterinary associate

A job candidate is offered a lowball salary at this veterinary hospital when the schedule conflicts with his religious beliefs. The hiring manager swears it's all about the bottom line. Whose side are you on?
Feb 09, 2017

Photo: Shutterstock / ArtMariCounty Pet Care Clinic started small. Today, 18 veterinarians and 22 technicians worked seven days a week to care for the ever-burgeoning pet care population in a bustling New York suburb.

Dr. Lee Hodge started working as an associate at the clinic 16 years ago, though he currently acts as medical director. Dr. Hodge’s ability to spot applicants with both excellent medical judgement and interactive people-skills was a big part of the clinic’s success. He is a straight-shooter and his coworkers know him to be honest and fair.

Dr. Hodge recently interviewed five veterinarians for three positions at his clinic. He was impressed with their medical credentials and saw that they were willing to be flexible to accommodate the hectic practice workload. He liked them all, so he made a job offer to each of the candidates—with a salary variation for only one.

This veterinarian, Dr. Osborn, had told Hodge that he could work any schedule, including Sunday shifts, but could not work Friday evenings or Saturdays. The position Dr. Osborn was offered had an 8% lower starting salary than his two identically qualified colleagues.

When he realized what happened, Dr. Osborn scheduled a second meeting with Dr. Hodge to discuss this inequity. He told Dr. Hodge that his inability to work on the Sabbath was a result of the principles of his religious beliefs. While he understood that it was an inconvenience, he felt his availability to work on Sundays made up for his Sabbath absence. He went on to mention, diplomatically, that he felt that Dr. Hodge was guilty of religious discrimination because he was effectively penalizing Dr. Osborn for observing his religious beliefs.

Dr. Hodge didn't take offense to Dr. Osborn's accusation, and chose to offer an explanation from another perspective. He noted that veterinary medicine is a unique hybrid: on the one hand, it is the practice of medicine with all the compassion and charity that is associated with the healing arts. On the other hand, it is a business venture that must function efficiently in order to be able to provide medical services.

A veterinarian able to work high-traffic Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, as well as night shifts, was more valuable to the business end of the County Pet Care Clinic. Religious restrictions were never a consideration, Dr. Hodge said. In fact, he made it a point not to inquire about the religious or philosophical beliefs of his staff. It simply was not his business. He reiterated to Dr. Osborn that he was impressed with his skills and would like him to accept the compensation package he was offered and come on board.

Dr. Osborn understood. But he said he believed that we live in an increasingly global, diverse world, one where religious convictions and cultural mandates should be explored and incorporated into the fabric of the modern veterinary workplace. By showing no interest and, in effect, disavowing staff diversity and lifestyle mandates, Dr. Osborn thought Dr. Hodge was in fact displaying a passive—not an active—religious and cultural prejudice.

The two agreed to disagree and Dr. Osborn turned down Dr. Hodge's offer of employment.

Do you agree with Dr. Hodge or his veterinary applicant? We’d like to know.


I don’t agree with Dr. Hodge. His prime directive seemed to be the bottom line, however, he used tunnel vision to achieve it. Our veterinary workforce is culturally and religiously diverse. Dr. Hodge’s decision will probably be more profitable in the short term, however, in the long term his resistance to offering equal pay to those with life-choice variations will decrease the talent pool available to his veterinary facility. Ultimately, to increase your bottom line you need a top-of-the-line staff.

Dr. Marc Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. Although many of his scenarios in "The Dilemma" are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors and employees described are fictional.

so wrong!

Sorry, can't let this one go without comment. Dr. Rosenberg is so wrong! I agree our colleagues are a diverse group, there is no doubt this is a strength. Where Dr. Rosenberg has strayed off reality is self evident. Dr. Osborn is well within his rights to practice religious beliefs, again, self evident. I just don't understand why anyone would think Dr. Osborn should be given preferential treatment because of his religious beliefs. I believe Dr. Hodge was being very generous in offering a position at all. Unless the position is compensated on production, there should be a premium paid to those doctors that can work the busier days.
Let's look at this from the employees' perspective. What if I realized my coworker was paid the same as I was and worked a premium schedule? If indeed all things are equal, why does that doctor get preferential treatment? Don't you think this would hurt overall moral? I would certainly resent my coworker and my boss!
Dr. Hodge is definitely looking at the bottom line. If not, he won't have to worry about hiring any doctors in a little while. He's also looking out for company morale. If he doesn't, he'll need to alot more doctors. After all, we all want a life outside work. We all deserve a date night. Its not fair or good management to play favorites. In fact, if I were interviewing a doctor the inability to work two of our busiest three days, for ANY reason, would end the interview. My criticism of Dr. Hodge is that he made an offer at all.
I have another scenario to propose, one I feel is much more prevalent. Suppose a doctor could not work those shifts because she had no one to take care her children? Would any offer have been made to her? Would this article even been deemed fit to be published in your magazine? I think not. Where would your righteous indignation be? What is the difference here? We all make decisions, we all work under a set of restrictions. Religion is one of many restrictions, no better, no worse, and no more or less important to whomever lives under them. I live under as many restrictions as everyone else, yet I don't expect the rest of the world to be inconvenienced by my restrictions. They are, after all, my burden alone to carry.