State-Law Savvy: How to Find and Follow State Employment Laws

Employment laws have been created to protect workers from wrongdoing in the workplace, addressing issues such as the following:

  • minimum wage requirements
  • protection from discrimination
  • workplace safety
  • child labor laws
  • workers’ compensation

These laws have been constructed to protect both the employee and the employer. In the United States, the relationship between employer and employee is known as a “master-servant” situation because the employee is expected to perform specified duties under the auspices of the employer. Labor laws have been created to prevent employers from abusing their power. These laws continue to be created and modified with the changing times.

Two good examples of employment laws created to balance the master-servant relationship include the following:

  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act

They aren’t the only laws providing this balance, but are good examples of the kinds of laws created to help ensure that employers cannot discriminate against their employees or otherwise abuse their position. The goal is not to create laws that simply favor the employee over the employers, but to create a more balanced and equal relationship. For example, employers are protected in that if they don’t believe a person is capable of doing a particular job, they are not required to hire the person. They also do not have  to keep someone indefinitely who isn’t performing to a reasonably-established standard.

There are federal laws addressing each of these topics, and states also make their own laws, as well. States cannot create laws that contradict existing federal laws, and if no relevant state law exists, then the corresponding federal rule applies.

Next, we will address state laws in two different but equally important ways:

  • how to discover what the laws are in your state
  • how to best follow those state-specific laws

Finding State-Specific Employment Law Information

You can find answers to questions about employment law, in general, through the United States Department of Labor. There are also links to state-specific law information. Ways to contact this federal agency include:

U.S. Department of Labor
AGENCY NAME
OFFICE NUMBER

200 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20210

The U.S. Department of Labor may direct you to an agency in your own state to get the state-specific answers you need, so you will often find answers more quickly by going directly to your State Labor Office; you can find a comprehensive contact list here: https://www.dol.gov/whd/contacts/state_of.htm

Another way to find this information is to talk to an attorney well versed in your state’s employment laws. This is often the best way to understand how a particular law applies to your specific situation.

Following State-Specific Employment Laws

Step one to following any law, of course, is to thoroughly understand that law and its implications. You will also need to investigate how your specific situation fits into applicable laws.

Here’s just one example of an employment law that differs from state to state: final paycheck laws. Because the FLSA does not address this issue at all, you need to look to state laws to find out how and when you must issue a final paycheck to an employee leaving your practice. Does it matter, for example, whether the employee was fired or if he or she quit? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. It depends upon the law in your state.

Regarding finally paychecks, four states currently have varying laws on this topic: Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi. In Missouri, no law exists about when you must give a final paycheck to an employee who quits, but a fired one must receive it immediately. In Ohio, no state law dictates when a fired employee gets his or her last paycheck, but one who quits must receive it by the first day of the month for wages earned in the first half of the prior month, or on the fifteenth of the month if wages were earned in the second half of the previous month.

So, by examining just one state employment law in six different states, it’s easy to see the wide variety inherent in today’s laws. When someone leaves your practice, how vacation time payout is handled is also subject to varying state laws. Some states have no laws whatsoever on the subject. Others say accrued vacation time must be paid out, while others state that it must be paid out if the employee agrees to certain conditions—and, for example, in Maryland, employers can create a written policy that states they don’t pay out for accrued vacation at all. If employees are notified of this policy when first hired, this policy can stand.

Here’s an example of one type of employment law that is covered by federal law, in which a state is allowed to offer more to employees, but not less: minimum wage laws. You can find information about each state’s laws at the U.S. Department of Labor’s site (https://www.dol.gov/whd/minwage/america.htm) via a color-coded map that indicates how that state’s laws compare to the federal standard. Hover your mouse over your state to see the current rate for you and click on your state to find more detailed information about applicable laws.

For example, in 2018, the federal wage law is $7.25. Click on Nevada in the map described above, and you can see that they have established a two-tiered system. If an employer doesn’t offer health insurance benefits, the minimum wage is $8.25, with premium pay required on days that exceed eight hours or weeks that exceed 40. However, if the employer does offer health insurance benefits and the employee accepts them, then the minimum wage is the same as the federal rate of $7.25.

Meanwhile in Missouri, they have established a minimum wage rate of $7.85, with no daily premium pay requirements, and premium pay is only required if an employee works more than 40 hours per week. Employees who work for a retail or service business with gross annual sales of less than half a million dollars per year, though, are not required to receive more than the federal minimum wage rate. And, if an employee works in a “seasonal amusement or recreation” business, premium pay is not required until “after 52 hours.”

In Arizona, the minimum wage is $10.50 per hour. In Oregon, it is $10.75, with premium pay after 40 hours – and, if someone works in “nonfarm canneries, driers, or packing plants and in mills, factories or manufacturing establishments (excluding sawmills, planning mills, shingle mills, and logging camps)”, premium pay is required after ten hours in a day.

Not all examples apply to veterinary practices, of course, and the point of these examples is to show how widely state laws can vary. So, it’s wise to fully use the resources available to you through government offices and websites and, when needed, through advice of employment attorneys. Laws can change, so make sure that your practice is state-savvy for this year’s laws.

Following State Laws: Vital for Practice Success

Because employment laws are created to help maintain a healthy balance between employer and employee, carefully following them helps you to create and/or maintain a healthy work environment for everyone in the practice. Conversely, by not following these laws, you’ll open your practice up to a significant risk for lawsuits.

 

Third-Party Harassment at Your Practice: How to Respond

Originally published in Today’s Veterinary Business, February 2019

Harassment creates a negative environment in the workplace, lowering morale, reducing productivity, and otherwise upsetting employees. It can take the form of unwanted flirtation, forced touching, or inappropriate jokes about an employee’s religion, race or sex. It could involve an unwillingness of someone to work with, for example, a sight-impaired employee. Harassment can also occur when someone inappropriately contacts an employee outside of work hours. Any behavior that threatens another person, humiliates him or her or otherwise victimizes a person can be considered harassment.

When employee harassment occurs, and all parties involved are working at your practice, the situation can be challenging; but hopefully you can have a process in place to deal with the situation.

What do you do when the person accused of harassing one or more of your employees doesn’t work at your practice? Perhaps the person is the janitor for the building where your practice is housed, a pharmaceutical salesperson or a landscaper. The accused could be an investor, a shareholder or even a client. The harassment could happen in person, in writing or on the phone, by email or even through social media postings.

So, what do you do?

First, it’s important to educate yourself and your managers about the laws surrounding third-party harassment, including case law, so your practice team has a solid foundation on which to form third-party anti-harassment policies and procedures. At the core of relevant case law is Freeman v. Dal-Tile Corp., the case in which the United States 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, yes, employers can be held liable when a third party engages in acts of workplace harassment.

In this landmark case, the plaintiff asked her employer for help when an independent sales representative who came into the company repeatedly subjected her to harassment, both sexual and racial. She did not feel her company protected her and she ultimately resigned. She then filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, stating that the workplace environment was hostile, and the reporting system was not working.

Educating your management team about this case is crucial to set the stage about how seriously these behaviors are now taken in federal courts. Also, be knowledgeable about and share how your state laws read, because specifics do vary by state.

Then, after making sure your managers are clear about these laws, it’s important to discuss what’s needed in your practice to create appropriate policies, procedures and channels of communication so that your employees, unlike the plaintiff in the case described above, can be promptly heard and remedies readily applied.

Include expectations of third-party vendors in your employee handbook, and let employees know how to inform you about any harassment by them. Be crystal clear that you have zero tolerance for this type of harassment, stating that any instances should be immediately reported. Review these guidelines with new employees and regularly revisit them when you review your handbook with all employees annually.

When Choosing Third-Party Vendors

Clearly communicate your expectations to vendors when you select them, letting them know that appropriate behavior in your practice is required. It can help to schedule an orientation-type meeting when you choose a new vendor, whether a salesperson from a drug company, someone who services office equipment or a contractor. Whenever you professionally communicate expectations, it’s more likely that they’ll be met. Although these types of conversations may initially feel awkward, companies with similar philosophies will respect your boundaries. And, if a third-party company is not comfortable with a professional discussion about the prevention of employee harassment, it’s not a company you would want to continue to do business with.

When an Employee Complaint is Made

A prompt response is crucial to maintain a professional workplace where employees are respected. Plus, if the case ultimately goes to court, your speed of response may become an important factor. If you do not act immediately, it could be considered a lack of care and potentially contribute to a decision that your practice is an unsafe work environment.

Your practice should investigate the complaint, just as you would if the accused harasser worked for your practice, although specifics of the investigative process may differ. The investigation should be prompt, unbiased and fair, with no assumptions made ahead of time.

While the investigation is ongoing, you can adjust the affected employee’s (or employees’) duties to protect him/her/them from the accused harasser. Do so in a way that has the least impact on employees’ jobs. This is important because, if any change in duties negatively affects the employee who lodged the complaint, this can be considered unlawful retaliation.

If your investigation indicates that harassment is occurring, have a conversation with the third-party vendor and/or his or her human resources department, as applicable. You may need to break off the relationship with the vendor, or you may be able to continue the relationship with the company with a different representative.

Depending upon specific circumstances, there may be other steps to take, including preventive measures to provide additional protection to employees going forward. This should include, but is not limited to, reviewing your employee handbook to ensure that the procedure to file harassment complaints about third parties is optimal (or if policies and procedures related to this situation need updating). Policies must contain the same zero tolerance language as harassment policies created for intra-practice situations and must provide protections to witnesses to the harassment who come forward with relevant information.

When you do your annual review of your employee handbook, use it as an opportunity to further educate employees on third-party harassment, including how it is defined and how they should respond if they see it happening at your practice. Encourage your employees to speak up and let them know that you will protect them from retaliation.

Whenever this type of situation arises, consider seeking out the advice of experienced attorneys, especially if you haven’t handled something similar before. Better yet, talk to an attorney when creating your policies, which will help to ensure that if third party harassment situations do arise at your practice you have systems in place to swiftly deal with them. This protects your practice, as well as your employees and vendors.

Remember to maintain confidentiality. It’s crucial that your employees feel safe in reporting harassment issues, including with third parties. This will play a significant role in creating an overall safe workplace, and one that is stronger, more productive, and more successful.

Note About Client Harassment

It can be especially challenging if an employee experiences harassment from a client. Because it can affect practice revenue, employees may be especially reluctant to report these situations. For this reason, it’s important that your practice policies explicitly state that harassing behaviors by clients should be reported, and that they will be thoroughly investigated and appropriately handled.

Regardless of the parties involved, the act of harassment in the workplace is a serious matter that should be addressed immediately. Your practice should have a policy in place to deal with it and everyone working at the practice should be educated about it. This will promote a safe working environment where everyone can do their job successfully.

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Managing Social Media Behavior at Your Veterinary Practice

Originally Published by Today’s Veterinary Business, December 2018

Use of the internet, particularly social media, can be a double-edged sword, especially in the workplace. On the plus side, it can be a wonderful vehicle for marketing your practice and otherwise connecting with clients and potential clients. On the darker side, what happens when an employee posts content that can have a negative impact on the practice? Should you respond? If so, how should you respond? If a post is offensive, do you have the option of disciplining, even firing, that employee?

Because people in general are so openly sharing thoughts and opinions on social media, it’s not surprising that many experts believe that terminations based on employees posting inappropriate content will continue to increase. Handling this type of issue at your practice can be challenging for your human resource team, given that this is a fairly new type of problem to tackle – but, finding the right approach is crucial, given that just one post has the potential to blow up into a public relations and human resource disaster.

So, how do you respond to, say, a sexist-sounding post on an employee’s page? Although you don’t want to over-react or react emotionally in the moment, and you don’t want to micro-manage your employees, here’s the crux of the situation, distilled into just one sentence. How much potential damage could a particular post have on your practice’s reputation?

What’s important is that you respond fairly, not allowing one person who, say, has a knack of being humorous in his or her posts more leeway for the same type of material that another employee posts in a more serious manner. And, if you choose not to respond, be aware that you’re still really responding – giving the message that you either are fine with the posts or you aren’t concerned with the messaging. And, although a non-response is sometimes the right choice, in today’s business environment, your practice could also be harmed by this more passive approach.

What You Can – and Cannot – Do

At a minimum, you should create a policy about your employees’ use of social media while at work. Be clear about what an employee can and cannot do, and then consistently adhere to that policy. You have the option of banning social media use entirely while on the job. If, of course, someone’s job includes posting for the practice, you’ll have to clearly delineate what is and isn’t permissible during work hours.

However, you cannot ban employees from talking about work-related issues online when they aren’t at work, and they are legally permitted to discuss topics with one another on social media that fall within protected concerted guidelines. Employees can, for example, discuss their dissatisfaction about management style at the practice, how much they’re getting paid and so forth on Facebook or Twitter, as just two examples.

Employees are not protected and can be fired, though, when they discuss these issues online with someone outside of the practice, as this no longer falls into the category of co-worker dialogue about the workplace. They can also be terminated for sharing information that is deemed confidential, including but not limited to trade secrets.

Employees aren’t protected when talking about a workplace topic that isn’t related to employment terms. If someone calls a manager “lazy,” that communication may ultimately be protected. If the employee posts, though, that the manager is “fat,” then that may open the employee up for termination. Or if an employee posts that “my veterinary office is full of ugly people,” this is leaving the realm of employment-related discussions.

It can be difficult to discern when a post crosses the line, so your practice may need help with an attorney experienced in this type of law to determine legalities of particular posts. Note that laws can differ by state so, if your company has practices in more than one of them, you may not be able to make blanket social media policies. Employee protection is especially strong in California, Colorado, Louisiana, New York and North Dakota. Also, be aware that employee protection about social media postings applies to unionized as well as non-unionized employees.

Hate Speech and Protected Classes

You can fire employees who engage in hate speech. Sometimes a post clearly contains hate speech, while at other times, it is borderline. Hate speech is defined as communication that has no purpose or meaning other than expressing a feeling of hatred for a particular group, perhaps focused on race, ethnicity or gender, sexual orientation, national origin, religion and so forth.

When Creating a Social Media Policy for Your Practice

Your policy should contain clear guidelines about what is and isn’t permitted while at work, and also explicitly state that trade secrets and the like must remain confidential. The policy should ask employees to not use social media to post defamatory material that could create a hostile work environment. It is also reasonable to ask them to preface any social media remarks made about the practice online with a disclaimer that you don’t represent your employer’s point of view. It makes good sense to be proactive, too, and run your social media policy past your practice’s attorney.

As a creative solution, some companies are providing social media breaks for their employees throughout the day, perhaps 15 minutes in length, a couple of times per day. This can give everyone a chance to relax and refresh their minds. The goal isn’t to completely restrict your employees from ever using social media (which isn’t do-able, anyhow) but to encourage moderate use in appropriate ways. If you want to use this strategy, outline specifics in your social media policy.

Sharing Your Social Media Policy with Employees

How you share the news about your social media policy can go a long way in determining how well it is received. For example, you could pick a day to get some pizzas for your employees, and use that as an occasion to have a discussion on your social media policy. Explain why having the policy is so important in today’s times, and educate them on the problems that can arise when this form of communication isn’t appropriately used.

As you share the role that social media and its messaging plays in your practice’s culture and values, using a helpful approach is more likely to be successful than leaving the impression that you don’t trust your employees and plan to monitor their every message. And sometimes, by simply educating employees on privacy setting options in social media, you can help to prevent an unpleasant situation.

Share examples of appropriate/acceptable posts and ones that cross the line, and be open to questions, concerns and employee feedback. Getting employees to buy into your policy is a big step forward.

Monitoring Social Media

In general, avoid monitoring a specific employee’s social media accounts to watch for inappropriate comments. If you’re aware of a controversial comment, let that employee know how you plan to investigate and then review the situation with him or her. Then do exactly that.

When you follow up with the employee, get his or her side of the story. In some cases, the comment is so inflammatory that termination may be the only response. Other times, what the employee has to say may provide context that allows for lesser forms of discipline. Remember to be consistent and to follow up appropriately with everyone involved at the practice. As needed, update your social media policy and share it with all of your employees.

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Hiring Teens: Pros and Cons and How to Find the Best Hires

According to ChildTrends.org, the percentage of youth that have jobs is on the upswing, but it’s still not as high as it was in 2006, before the Great Recession hit in December 2007. When that recession occurred, teenagers took a significant portion of the brunt of unemployment.

There are clear benefits for a teenager when they are employed, and there are benefits for the overall economy, but what are the benefits and challenges for employers? What about your practice? Does it make good sense for you to hire teenagers?

Here are some of the challenges, as well as the numerous benefits of hiring a teenager to work at your practice. Plus, learn some helpful tips on finding the right teen for the job.

Challenges of Hiring Teenagers

One of the most obvious challenges is their lack of experience. This means you’ll need to expend more resources training and/or supervising a teenaged worker and be patient as the learning curve takes place. You will likely need to explain tasks in more detail and answer more questions. After all, this may be his or her very first job. If not, he or she is still near the beginning of life as an employee.

Teenagers are usually more at the mercy of their family’s schedule. They may or may not have their own transportation and they may not have as much control over when family commitments take place. Plus, during the school year, they will have multiple scheduling conflicts, whether it’s because of exams or extracurricular activities. They may have parents who hover over them and this can have a negative impact on the workplace.

You may need to explain policies to them more than once, perhaps about cell phone use at work. Teenagers have likely been surrounded by cell phones for as long as they can remember, and it just feels natural for them to quickly Google something they want to know or answer a text. Policies that just feel natural to you, as an employer, may not make sense to them at all.

Teens may need guidance in how to handle pressure and/or frustration at work, and they may struggle to accept feedback if it’s the first time for them in a workplace setting. They won’t have the same perspectives as older workers, something that will serve as both a positive and a negative.

Their conditions of employment are more subject to regulations, from federal on down, from when they can work, to how many hours, to what safety considerations need to be in place. The latter includes the restrictions on some equipment usage because of hazards. Remember that state laws can be even more restrictive than federal ones, so know what your state requires and restricts. It’s important to know the youth minimum wage (currently at $4.25) and whether your state pushes that to a higher amount. It’s also important to know how long you can pay that youth rate before being required to pay the regular federal minimum wage (currently for the first 90 calendar days before changing to $7.25).

Benefits of Hiring Teenagers

Stereotypical jobs for teenagers include summer employment such as a lifeguard, a camp counselor, or at an ice cream stand. Other common jobs include working in a fast food restaurant or at a retail store during the busy holiday season. In those cases, the benefits of using teenagers are clear: extra help during peak seasons, especially at tourism sites, and/or at a lower pay rate.

Hiring teen workers can reduce your payroll costs, in part because of the youth minimum wage and in part because they are less experienced employees and would receive starting levels of pay. (Note: just because you can pay a teenager a wage lower than the federal minimum wage for a period doesn’t mean you necessarily should. If a reasonable amount of companies in your area are hiring, you may need to offer something more enticing.)

Because teenagers typically work part-time, you can save money on benefits, as well. And, depending upon where your practice is located, you may be able to claim a tax credit for employing teenagers.

Hiring teenagers provide more stability than if you rely upon temporary workers who could suddenly leave your practice if offered regular employment. And the teens you employ part-time may stay with your practice throughout their school years, perhaps even through college. If they decide to stay in the veterinary industry after finishing school, they become a source of experienced employees that are already part of your company’s culture, and trained to your specifications.

Younger employees can bring a fresh perspective to your practice. In fact, many companies today use a reverse-mentoring philosophy in which young workers share perspectives with older ones, on topics such as social media and crowdsourcing.

Young workers usually have higher levels of energy and, when harnessed in the workplace, this can help energize the workers around them. When given appropriate direction, guidance and feedback, teenagers can be extremely productive workers. They can often multi-task especially well, can be quite versatile, and aren’t set in their ways like many older employees.

How to Find the Best Teens for Your Practice

Just like with adult workers, some teens may be a better fit for your practice than others. It helps to talk to school counselors at the local high schools, vocational schools and community colleges to find out how to connect with students who are looking for jobs. They often host job fairs and may have programs to connect job-seeking students with businesses looking to hire.

Referrals from current employees and other people in your network can lead to finding the right teenagers to hire. If you are going to advertise, do so where teens are likely to be. Use social media, for example, rather than local print newspapers. Another effective way to reach young workers is through online job websites such as Indeed.com, ZipRecruiter.com and Monster.com. Regardless of how you share your employment advertisement, when you reach the right person, you will have found a new, young member to benefit your veterinary team.

Veterinary Nurse Versus Technician: the Pros and the Cons

The Veterinary technician profession has been subjected to variability since birth. Today, it faces a new, and hopefully positive, change with discussions about modifying the profession’s title to “veterinary nurse”. A movement lead by the National Association for Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) has illuminated differing opinions between those in and outside of the profession.

Veterinary Technician History

The profession began in 1908 when the Canine Nurses Institute made its first organized effort to train English “Veterinary Assistants”. Over the next eighty years, the profession grew. First, the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science created three different levels of “animal technician” certifications at research institutions. Next, the US Army, Purina, and State University of New York (SUNY) established “animal technician” training programs in the 1960’s, which the AVMA then began regulating in 1967. The AVMA waited until 1989 to adopt the term “veterinary technician”, feeling until then that people would be confused with the “veterinary” modifier.

Michigan State University and Nebraska Technical Colleges were the first animal technical educational programs accredited by the AVMA. There are now 230 AVMA accredited veterinary technician education programs. Of these, 21 offer four-year degrees and nine offer distance-learning (online) options. Even before the AVMA adopted the term, the North American Veterinary Technician Association (now called the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America) was formed in 1981. It works alongside the AVMA to protect the profession and encourages veterinary technician specialty developments. However, the profession has not grown uniformly across the United States.

In the United States, 37 states have established “veterinary technician” licensure, 10 states have non-profit organizations that implement voluntary credentialing, and 5 states/territories do not have any credentialing systems. This means that being a veterinary technician today could mean that either the state government regulates your credentialing, you are privately credentialed, or someone gave you the title “veterinary technician” when you started working at a veterinary practice and there is no credentialing system in your state.

Pros of “Veterinary Nurse”

The profession is fragmented by more than their state’s accreditations. Depending on their location, Veterinary technicians currently have varying titles. There are 19 states that use “certified veterinary technician”, 15 states that use “registered veterinary technician”, 14 states that use “licensed veterinary technician”, and Tennessee uses “licensed veterinary medical technician”. With this amount of fragmentation within the profession, how do we as veterinary professionals expect the general public to understand or trust a veterinary technician’s job description? As such a close-knit profession, we forget the foreignness of our commonly-used terms. Most clients underestimate the value of their veterinary technician simply by not knowing the education process. In fact, in a NAVTA survey to human nurses, 71% did not know the difference between veterinary assistants and technicians. Yet, we are baffled when we find that credentialed veterinary technicians are repeatedly unhappy and facing low income, compassion fatigue, lack of recognition and career advancement, underutilization of skills, and competition with individuals trained on-the-job. Due to this culture, the profession has incredibly high turnover rates despite its increased demand by the growing veterinary industry; veterinary technicians are projected to grow 30% by 2022.

How can we, without spending incredible amounts on advertising, uplift our veterinary technicians in the public (and practice’s) eye? Many have suggested using the familiar and applicable “nurse” title. The word “technician” implies an individual who has mastered veterinary science and technology, while “nurse” incorporates caring for animal patients into the description. Heather Predergast, RVT, CVPM, SPHR, a specialist with Patterson Veterinary Supply, Inc., discussed the need to abolish the profession’s fragmentation. She noted that “there has long been a need for common credentialing in this area. The responsibilities and job tasks of a veterinary technician have evolved over time and are inaccurately described by the term ‘technician’, implying a definition of their identify based on technical tasks. The term ‘veterinary nurse’ will incorporate the art of caring for patients from a patient-centered perspective, in addition to the science and technology.”

For these reasons, NAVTA has launched the Veterinary Nurse Initiative in an action to unite a single title, set of credential requirements, and scope of practice. This movement would hopefully provide recognition to the profession and elevate its credibility by requiring further education. Like human nurses, differing titles would recognize individual’s efforts for further education. To distinguish associate and bachelor’s degrees, NAVTA has proposed designating Registered Veterinary Nurse for associate degrees and Bachelor of Sciences in Veterinary Nursing for bachelor’s degrees.

Australia and the United Kingdom have already changed the name to “veterinary nurse” with large success. As the movement poses potential in the States, many academic institutions and corporations, such as Purdue, Midmark Corporation, and Patterson Veterinary Supply Inc. have published endorsements for its change; however, the initiative does face fair opposition.

Cons of “Veterinary Nurse”

Many veterinary technicians still opt to keep their current title. When questioned in a 2016 NAVTA survey, the majority of veterinary technicians (54%) favored the term “veterinary nurse”, over a third (37%) wanted to keep the title “veterinary technician”, and the remaining surveyed were undecided. Most of the pro-technician responders attributed their answer to disbelief that it will be possible to change the title. Some current veterinary technicians have voiced unease at their unsure futures after working their entire careers in a state that does not require licensure. Another similar situation arises for those that have passed the veterinary technician national examination but have not graduated from a school accredited by the AVMA committee.

While, ideally, this veterinary nurse initiative works to unify the profession and ensure quality standards, we must realize that we may be alienating a population of technicians at the end of their careers that would be offended if required to pay for an accredited teaching program and learn alongside new, inexperienced future technicians. Another important consequence to consider is liability. Currently, liability for veterinary technicians falls to the veterinarian on all cases; however, human nurses have their own liability to practice under their license governed by a separate board. This is a consideration essential to address as we raise the accountability of veterinary nurses.

The Veterinary Nurse Initiative has faced opposition outside of the profession as well. In fact, the veterinary technicians initially opposed to changing the name also noted conflict with human nurses in any past attempted title changes. The Veterinary Nurse Initiative investigated this further by sending a survey to three nursing groups. Two of the three declined to even acknowledge the survey, potentially indicating apathy for veterinary-related topics. Of the one group that did complete the survey, 66% did not object to “veterinary nurse”; however, regardless of whether or not they were opposed to the title change, almost all of the responders incorrectly assumed a veterinary technician’s educational requirements. An analysis of the opposed responses to the nurse title found that the objectors believed technician education was subpar to human nursing and the title was not deserved by veterinary technicians. It suggests that the human nursing profession worries about maintaining the quality of its own title and hopes to avoid misrepresentations.

In the past, other professions, not similar in scope to human nurses, have attempted to claim a “nursing” title. For example, a Christian medical community attempted to title their “spiritual healers” as “nurses”; however, they did not share nearly the same amount of education rigor. When confronted with a potential title change in the veterinary profession, human nurses mistakenly worry that the term “veterinary nurse” will also encompass veterinary assistants. This confusion highlights the need for public awareness of technicians – if the closest human counter-part profession does not understand a technician’s role or certification, how can we expect the general public to know any differently? The veterinary profession must raise awareness to the public about the differences between its assistants and technicians.

Currently, as the veterinary nurse initiative gains a foothold in Ohio, the Ohio Nurses Association and its 170,000 members have fought its new legislation, arguing that the state legally defines the term “nurse” as caring for humans and that no other person or profession may insinuate that they practice as a nurse. With similar nurse title protection in about 24 other states, the veterinary nurse initiative is likely in for its fair share of conflict as it continues to grow.

The debate over the title of veterinary technicians remains controversial both in and outside of the veterinary community. As with any impending change, it is important to recognize its potential benefits and shortcomings in order to formulate the best strategy to improve the profession. If the Veterinary Nurse Initiative ends up being successful, the change will likely empower today’s veterinary technicians and reduce the profession’s current high turnover rates.