Destination Pet “goes first” and eliminates noncompetes from contracts
Ashley Harris, DVM, DABVP (Canine/Feline), vice president of veterinary operations, and Kathryn Smith, director of DVM recruiting, for Destination Pet, have heard the arguments that noncompete clauses in employment contracts for veterinarians protect the business and the clients. But they’ve also heard about the devastating effects of these clauses on current and former employees of practices that use them.
And Harris and Smith have arrived at their own conclusion: Noncompete clauses are “archaic.” As members of the executive leadership team for the corporate owner of 46 veterinary clinics and many more grooming, daycare, and boarding facilities, they had more than just the health of the business in mind.
“We want to do the right thing for people and pets,” Harris said, which meant creating a great workplace culture that encourages veterinarians to want to stay—rather than restrictions that make them feel stuck or drive them out. To that end, Destination Pet has removed noncompete clauses from all current and future veterinarian contracts.
Noncompetes in real life
“Why would we limit people from pursing their passion?” Smith asked.
She recalls a story of a board-certified specialist who left a corporate specialty practice with a restrictive noncompete covenant controlling their ability to find work without moving out of town. To avoid uprooting their family, they were forced to pursue employment options teaching yoga before finding a role in general practice as a relief veterinarian.
This specialist still has another year in the two-year, almost 50-mile noncompete clause that they’ve spent over $60,000 of their own money to fight—unsuccessfully--in court. This specialist now travels over 100 miles to be able to legally work in their specialty and describes their battle with their multi-million-dollar former employer as an emotional roller coaster.
Financially, it’s been devastating as well. “This year,” they report, “I’ve barely made enough to cover the cost of the attorney’s fees.”
Smith also recounts a story of a different veterinarian who needed to send a patient to the emergency clinic overnight for continued care. When she reached out to the emergency clinic, she was told that the clinic would likely not be operating that night because they didn’t have a doctor scheduled to work.
Not wanting her patient to go without care, the veterinarian asked if she would be able to pick up the shift but was worried that her contract wouldn’t allow it—ultimately, she was given permission to work the shift.
Why do noncompetes still exist?
With much talk about the damaging consequences of noncompete clauses on the individuals affected by them, the veterinary industry (both corporate and privately-owned) seems reluctant to abandon them.
When asked why they felt comfortable going against the grain and eliminating noncompete clauses, Harris was quick to respond: “Being a creative innovator is a core value (of our company). We like to go first.”
Harris clarifies that their practices can still be protected by nonsolicitation clauses that prevent outgoing veterinarians from intentionally luring away clients and/or employees without preventing these veterinarians from working wherever they feel comfortable.
Veterinarians respond to the change
Harris and Smith both report that veterinarians express happiness and surprise when they learn that Destination Pet no longer requires noncompete clauses. Smith finds that not all applicants feel comfortable asking for a contract without a noncompete. “I encourage veterinarians to not be afraid to say that they are not willing to be locked into a box in terms of where they work,” she said.
“It’s the way of the future,” Harris adds. “It should be standard.”
The Shifting Landscape of Noncompete Agreements
Noncompetes are contentious in veterinary practice
The banning of noncompete clauses for animal health and veterinary employers
Emily Singler, VMD, is AAHA’s veterinary content strategist.
Photo credit: © Oleksandra Trojan E+ via Getty Images Plus
Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.