Find what's lurking in your veterinary employment contract


Find what's lurking in your veterinary employment contract

Arm yourself with an ally when negotiating your employment terms.
Feb 01, 2013

Consider this: When you go to a bank or credit union to apply for a new car loan, the bank officer walks you through the details of the loan and asks if you have any questions about the terms. Just what you'd expect, right? Banks do this because they want to be certain you understand the commitment you're making and the exact nature of the rights and obligations of both parties.

The same is true when you buy a house. Your real estate agent reviews the terms of the deal with you: contingencies, down payment, critical time periods for obtaining financing and so on. But what about your employment contract? Who's helping you wade through those terms?

Spring is approaching—it's the time of year when many associate veterinarians and veterinary students are considering new jobs. This is without question the busiest contract review season of the year in the industry. For those of you out there who have narrowed down your list of job opportunities and are preparing to make a final decision, it's time to carefully consider the contents of employment contracts. These documents, which are usually presented by potential employers, contain the terms the two parties have verbally negotiated during one or more interviews—or, in the case of working practitioners, during performance reviews. During this process, you must decide whether you'll sign the employment agreement proposed by your new or current boss without modification or, alternatively, have an attorney or consultant review the agreement.

Language barriers

Assuming that car loans and real estate contracts are important enough to justify having an expert explain the key points of the agreement and entertain all the questions you might have, why would you sign an employment contract without obtaining similar guidance? After all, an employment contract involves money and benefits worth far more than a new car. And when you buy a new house, you aren't promising to move at least 10 miles away for at least two years if you no longer want to live there.

Veterinary employment contracts are complicated. They call for numerous promises and place major personal obligations on the prospective employee. It just makes sense to have a professional look over the document before you sign on the dotted line.

As veterinary employers have become more sophisticated in terms of hiring employees, they have become more knowledgeable about clauses they should place in contracts. For example, many of the veterinary employment agreements I review contain language stating that by signing the contract, the associate certifies that he or she has been encouraged to or has actually obtained a legal review of the document. What this means is that the associate waives, in writing, any claim that he or she didn't have a chance to get professional guidance on the terms of the agreement. It's tough to make a persuasive argument in court that the associate didn't understand the binding nature of the noncompete agreement if he or she signed a statement advising him or her to obtain legal advice prior to signing the deal.