Not even noncompete clauses are sacred
In a practice world where major economic changes, third-party payment issues and expanding corporate veterinary practice are
rewriting the rules of how individual practitioners interact with their employers and workplaces, it's probably a mistake
to think that a key element of the employment contract—that pesky set of nocompetition terms—is immutable and cannot be custom-tailored
to protect both the employer and the employed associate veterinarian.
When more thought and consideration is put into the design of the noncompetition language of a veterinary employment agreement,
several different objectives can be better served. Consider these points:
1. Employers worry about the enforceability of noncompetes they impose on doctors they hire.
Courts have looked at these clauses in terms of whether or not they appear "reasonable under the circumstances of the employment."
What better evidence could there be of "reasonableness" than a situation where the clause or paragraph has been custom-designed
to protect both the employer's client base as well as the associate's livelihood and financial security in the event of an
2. Employed veterinarians are afraid to negotiate their noncompetition agreements with potential employers and often walk
away from good potential positions at the first sign that a hospital won't bend on the terms.
If a veterinary hospital or chain of corporate practices routinely took into consideration the possibility of future unexpected
economic troubles (a drop in caseload or revenue) in its dealings with potential associate hires, it would have a larger number
of such applicants, and the doctors hired would be less edgy about their compensation on a day-to-day basis.
Next month in this space we'll look at some newer and more innovative ways to draft noncompetition language. There are a number
of ways to customize and design this sort of language, but I would suggest that the sort of artful drafting I'll propose next
month is missing from 99 percent of the veterinary employment contracts currently in effect.
In today's economic world, noncompetition clauses are more important than ever. Think of it this way: When auto workers or
aircraft engineers get laid off, they're usually just out of a job. When business picks up, they can return to pretty much
any workplace where hours are available. In our profession, a layoff or reduction in hours may mean that the doctor's job
is not only gone but that he or she can't return to work at all without agreeing to move, with family in tow, out of town
for a year, two years or longer.
There has to be a better way.
Dr. Allen is president of Associates in Veterinary Law P.C., which provides legal and consulting services to veterinarians. Call (607)
754-1510 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org