Associate veterinarians and practice owners alike dread salary and benefit negotiations. The thought of discussing increased
vacation time or more continuing education reimbursements can raise blood pressures. Most of us feel a great sense of relief
when we're able to finalize contracts and move on to the business of carrying them out.
But remember: A finalized employment document represents more than a bunch of unsatisfying compromises. A well-drafted agreement
supports and reminds participants of the promises and rights that each side is entitled to see respected and carried out over
the ensuing months and years. In failing to refer to contractual commitments and obligations during the year, we often either
intentionally or inadvertently overlook the obligations that are key to keeping the employee-employer relationship strong.
Regular checkup: Don't wait for negotiation time to revisit contracts.
Employment agreements often call for performance reviews, but busy veterinarians and managers frequently overlook or ignore
this part of the employment contract. When the boss neglects to make time for an employee's performance review, the associate
is usually hesitant to remind him. Let's face it; even if you think you're performing well, what associate wants to invite
Here's the big problem with avoiding performance reviews: The employer brings up problems identified in the associate's work
only when it's time to renegotiate the employment contract. The associate may well misinterpret—or rather, correctly interpret—this
sudden faultfinding as a ploy by the owner to offer a lower-than-expected pay raise.
By periodically referring to the employment document, the employer and associate can address unfulfilled obligations as they
happen, without anyone having to be the bad guy. If the owner sees that a new hire isn't putting in the necessary hours or
completing case workups, the owner can use the contract as a reference point for initiating a dialogue about the problem.
The practice owner might say, "Let's go over our agreement to make sure we're all doing our parts. We can use our contract
to remind us of what we mutually promised."
At this point, the employer may wish to point out particular terms of the contract that he feels the associate is neglecting.
Every contract should have these terms in plain language, such as "will not leave for the day until all cases are written
up with a plan for the next shift to follow" or "will work a minimum of 45 hours per week but will remain on any given day
until all professional work is completed." This is a good way to bring problems to the attention of new doctors.
In my consulting and law practice, I see many cases that stem from employment contract misunderstandings. Here are the most
commonly overlooked employment issues that employers should clarify or reinforce by periodically referencing the associate's
Account for productivity
Veterinary employers are notorious for broadly criticizing associates for not contributing enough economically to the practice.
What exactly does that mean? What is an associate supposed to do? Vague claims like this do little to motivate an associate,
especially when the manager makes no effort to help remedy the deficiency.
Practice owners are better served by sitting down with the associate to review the contract. The employment contract frequently
refers to production goals or at least promises to provide an associate concrete figures regarding personal productivity.
Together, the practice owner and doctor can go over the terms that refer to productivity and the employer's promise to share
information about the specifics of the employee's personal productivity.
This conversation highlights the fact that the practice is fulfilling its contractual obligations of transparency. It also
serves as a reminder to the associate that the productivity issue is not going away and that the contractual commitment to
"use employee's best efforts"—a common phrase promising that an associate works hard—may well come up again in the future.