'What?! I didn't see nothin ... '

'What?! I didn't see nothin ... '

This is what can happen when past employers aren’t honest about possible new veterinary hospital hires.
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Nov 07, 2018

"Close your eyes, pinch your nose and tell them whatever they want to hear" is not the right approach to fielding a job reference call from a former employee's potental new boss. (Adobe Stock)The secrets to Dr. Howard’s growing four-doctor, 14-team-member practice in a busy metropolitan suburb were cutting-edge veterinary medicine and an excellent support staff. When hiring a new team member, she demanded excellence and compassion and did not settle for mediocrity. She offered excellent salaries, flexible schedules and collegial mentoring.

She also had a unique approach to hiring: If someone interviewed with excellent references, impressive skills and a sparkling personality, she would hire whether there was a need or not. She didn’t believe you could let someone with those attributes get away.

So far, so good

Dr. Howard had recently received a résumé from an experienced veterinary technician, Susan. Susan had moved to the area not long ago from another part of the state, with 12 years’ experience and a broad, sophisticated skill set. She had several professional references and immediate availability.

Dr. Howard was impressed with Susan’s interview and her volunteer work with the animal welfare community. She called the applicant’s last employer, Comfort Care Animal Hospital, and spoke to the practice owner, Dr. Mason. He confirmed her excellent skills and remarked that he was sorry she’d moved away.

Dr. Howard hired Susan and was excited to have her join her clinic team. Initially, she proved to be just as advertised: skilled, articulate and efficient.

Cross-training goes south

Dr. Howard always believed that her technicians should spend shifts in reception both to familiarize themselves with how to execute a front-desk transaction and also to gain an understanding of just how challenging a receptionist’s job was.

Recently, two regular clients had been contacted due to outstanding balances. Both emphatically insisted they had paid their bills and had the canceled checks to prove it. When Dr. Howard received copies of the canceled checks, she saw that they’d been made out to her new technician, endorsed by her technician and deposited to her employee’s personal account. It became clear that when Susan had been working as a receptionist, she took these checks and informed the clients she would stamp them with the clinic name. She then wrote her own name on the payee line of the check.

Dr. Howard was furious. She called Susan into her office and confronted her. After a lot of tears and an offer to pay all the money back if the police weren’t called, Dr. Howard relented. During the course of the discussion, Dr. Howard learned that Susan had been fired from her last job for stealing. The deal then was that if she immediately paid the money back and left the practice without involving lawyers, her boss—Dr. Mason—would not give her a bad reference.

What do we owe in a job reference?

Dr. Howard was understandably upset. She’d lost a new employee, been the victim of embezzlement and been hoodwinked by a fellow veterinarian. When she called for the reference, her colleague could simply have confirmed the fact that Susan had worked for him and not commented on her performance. He could even have refused to participate in a conversation at all. What he should not have done was lie to her.

Dr. Howard filed a complaint of unprofessional behavior by Dr. Mason with the state board. She even considered going to civil court but really could not justify any tangible monetary damages. State boards usually distance themselves from veterinarian-against-veterinarian complaints unless they’re severe. The board’s focus primarily involves resolving disputes between the pet-owning public and licensed veterinarians. In this case, though, the board did indeed find that Dr. Mason had acted in an unprofessional manner by intentionally deceiving a colleague. The penalty was a sanction, a fine and a reprimand.

Do you believe Dr. Howard handled this correctly, and do you agree with the board’s decision? Let us know at [email protected].

Dr. Rosenberg’s response

No matter your profession, it’s not a good idea to intentionally lie or deceive anyone. The referring veterinarian took the easy way out. He decided he would make his problem someone else’s problem and his worries would be over. This dilemma clearly demonstrates that making a deal with a thief doesn’t benefit anyone. Both veterinarians paid a price, and the thief moved on to steal another day.

Dr. Marc Rosenberg is the director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. Growing up in a veterinary family, he was inspired to join the profession because his father was a small animal practitioner. Dr. Rosenberg has two dogs and three cats. In Dr. Rosenberg’s private time, he enjoys playing basketball and swing dancing with his wife—they have danced all over the world, including New York City, Paris and Tokyo. Dr. Rosenberg has been a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Actors for more than 30 years. He has hosted two radio shows, a national TV show and appeared in over 30 national TV commercials, all with pet care themes.