New Year’s Goal #2 Employee Handbook

Now is a great time to put together your New Year’s Goals and generate a plan. Let’s consider reviewing or creating an employee handbook.

Employee handbooks are great tools, when reviewed annually (as a minimum), used for new employee orientation and updated with team members routinely. Employee handbooks that are sitting on the shelf with dust accumulating are doing no good. Handbooks are living documents that benefit the veterinary owner, business and employee. When properly created and reviewed by an attorney, manuals are a great asset.

Benefits include:

  1. Clearly communicates policies to the employee
  2. Saves time
  3. Establishes expectations
  4. Ensures company treats employees consistently
  5. Provides legal documentation
  6. Carefully considers policies designed with managers, supervisors and veterinarians
  7. Prevents misunderstandings

How do you begin to create or update an employee handbook? What do you need to include/exclude? The task can seem overwhelming, at first. If you are starting from scratch, there are a few templates and resources.

  • American Animal Hospital Association has a template managers can use, for members and non-members. View their site at under the AAHA Store tab to review and order.
  • Create Your Own Employee Handbook; a Legal and Practical Guide. Find this book on There is a DVD to download the template. “Provides all the information and policies managers, HR professionals and business owners need to create their own reader-friendly guide.” Plus there are laws broken down by state and updated every two years.

When initially creating a handbook be sure to include “hallway” policies, those are the rules generated in passing by the veterinarian and manager that nobody else knows about. Be sure to include the unwritten policies that can make or break a team. Gather up all the sticky notes, individual letters, index cards and ideas tucked away and start putting an order to them. Policies are meant to be public knowledge for your team and not “secrets.”

Wheels have already been created, be sure to use them!

Your employees want to belong to something bigger and better than themselves. They want to know why the clinic exists and the direction the leaders want to take them. Employee handbooks can clearly have a written history, acknowledge the owners for their contributions to the business and community and welcome incoming team members.

Mission, Vision and Values help to define the business culture. Creating a mission will help to align your team’s energy and create synergy towards a common goal. In Dr. Carin Smith’s book Team Satisfaction Pays; Organizational Development for Practice Success, managers are given tools to create mission, vision and value statements. When teams are involved, there is more buy in. When new employees are interviewed, knowledge of values will help identify their ability to meld with other team members. Consider reviewing Mission, Vision and Value statements annually. Make it a gala affair, really dissecting the statements and seeing if they are still relevant or not.

Why have an employee handbook? The written guidelines help a business comply with certain laws and reduce the risk of lawsuits. Guidelines give direction to employees so they can succeed in their career.

Federal and State Laws that directly affect veterinary practices include, although not limited to:

*Equal Opportunity Employment (EOE)

* Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

*Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

* At-Will Employment

*Right to Know

*Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA)

* State Drug and Alcohol Testing Laws

*State Meal and Rest Breaks

*State Laws on Access to Personnel Records

Federal, state and local government websites are useful when researching laws that pertain to your business. In the resource, Create Your Own Employee Handbook, individual state laws are defined. Because laws change, frequently, always refer to the most updated version and have a lawyer review hospital handbooks.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is worth further discussion.

Definitions are a good place to begin:

Non-exempt employees receive hourly wages; they are subject to wage

and hour laws, i.e. overtime pay; usually applies to non-professional employees

(receptionists, technicians and kennel assistance fall into this category).

Exempt employees are those who are exempt from certain wage and hour laws, i.e. overtime pay; usually applies to administrative, executive, or professional employees who receive an annual salary, in equal payments weekly, bi-weekly, or at some other specified time interval.

Also Known As: salaried employee

View for more information. Again, in Create Your Own Employee Handbook, there is a section outlining state fair labor laws. Phil Seibert, CVT has written articles regarding overtime. I encourage you to read Overtime Rules for Veterinary Practices, Operate by the book when it comes to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Discuss with your lawyer the proper title and status of your employees.

Discipline policies may also be outlined in your manual. Mention the use of an Exit Interview and both verbal and written warnings. Be sure managers are properly expressing expectations in job descriptions and teams are receiving training in their chosen area of expertise. As Mark Opperman says, “If you expect it, inspect it.”

Following is a small list of things that may lead to disciplinary actions:

  • Lying on employee application
  • While on hospital property, being under the influence of alcohol beverages or illegal drugs (discussion of legalize marijuana is a HOT TOPIC!!)
  • Disregarding safety regulations
  • Unexcused absenteeism or tardiness

While team members are gathered in a meeting, ask them to break into groups, discuss what actions require disciplinary resolution. Ask them to write out their thoughts and concerns. Bring the team back together and discuss their findings. In this way, the team is creating their own policies. This can be done once a trust has been established and open conversations are encouraged.

Employee Confidentiality, pay information, holidays, performance reviews, introductory period and an organizational chart will be included in a comprehensive employee handbook. Phase training, benefits, annual picnics and use of sick days are also reviewed in the manual. Dress code, drug testing, cigarette smoking and use of library books can be outlined.

Remember, employee handbooks benefit both the employer and employee. It is a win/win situation. Utilize the updated handbook at time of hire (even offer a copy to eligible employees before the initial interview), when there is a disruption in policies or blatant misunderstanding, or at a time of employee unrest.  Consider a breakfast meeting to annually review the employee handbook from cover to cover. Making sure employees sign they have been given the information and they understand the confidentiality policy. These documents are kept in their personnel files along with other documents. Seriously, personnel files are to be kept under lock and key and specific materials are not to be for the public or other employee’s eyes.  Read Sheila Grosdidier’s article 5 Facts About Employee Rights. It is a myth that employees can’t look at their own personnel files, what is odd is that different states have different laws. It is all so confusing, at times.

This is a brief overview of what to include in an employee handbook. Entire weekend and weeklong classes are offered nationally by veterinary and business experts. Seriously consider attending a presentation near you. I am confident you will find their information enlightening.

In Conclusion, employee handbooks are useful tools, when properly created, updated and reviewed with team members. Hot topics vary between states and thus each state’s laws must be taken into consideration when making a manual. Be sure to review federal, state and local laws and know your rights as an employee.


Team Satisfaction Pays; Organizational Development for Practice Success, Dr. Carin Smith, Smith Veterinary Consulting and Publishing, 2008

Create Your Own Employee Handbook, A Legal and Practical Guide, 3rd Edition, Consolidated Printers. Inc, May 2007

Model Employee Handbook for Small Business, NFIB Legal Foundation, Arent Fox Attorneys at Law, National Federation of Independent Business,

5 Facts About Employee Rights, Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, Firstline, June 2010,,

Overtime Rules for Veterinary Practices, Operate by the book when it comes to the Fair Labor Standards Act, Phil Seibert, CVT, Veterinary Economics, June 1, 2009

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