Are you an unemployed veterinary team member? Know your rights—and look for the rainbow

Here's what you can do to protect your legal rights after a layoff or termination—and plan for a brighter future.
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Nov 01, 2011

Unemployed. It's a scary word, especially in a competitive job market. When you're looking for a new job and preparing to file your legitimate unemployment claim, here's what you can do to protect your rights—and plan for a brighter future.

  • Start by choosing the right employer. Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, a partner and consultant with VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo., says she tells employees who are seeking jobs that there are four things they should look for in an employer:

1. Does the practice abide by general employment requirements? "When you're applying for a job and they take you on a tour of the practice, look for the posters," she says. "Where are the posters that tell you about your rights, such as the minimum wage and family medical leave? Are these posters easy to find and up-to-date?"

2. What do other team members say about the practice? Ask about payroll and whether it works smoothly. Grosdidier warns you to be on guard if team members report that sometimes checks don't come out on time or they're consistently wrong.

3. Accept some personal responsibility. "While I'm not going to relieve an employer of responsibility if they aren't following the rules," Grosdidier says, "I am going to ask employees to verify and be careful." For example, she says it's a good idea to spend 10 minutes each year before you pay your taxes to look up a few things. First, she recommends visiting the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division site. Then use the elaws Advisor tool at http://dol.gov/whd/resources/elaws_advisors.htm to verify how you're supposed to be paid, based on the hours you worked and the circumstances. For example, you can check on topics like how you should be paid for attending a continuing education conference or for holidays or overtime.

4. Be aware of differences in federal and state laws. Grosdidier says team members in California, for example, will find that their state laws offer a great amount of detail on employment issues, and the state laws don't always agree with federal laws.

  • If you are laid off, it is appropriate to ask why. "When you ask employees, it's very common to hear that they worked for a conflict-averse manager," Grosdidier says.

The slower economy may seem like an opportunity to lay off under-performing employees, but Grosdidier warns managers against this. She says it's always better to document and tell the truth about your reason for dismissing employees. And it can ultimately be a costly mistake—as much as $2,700—if you don't follow the appropriate steps and the team member receives unemployment benefits. The bottom line: When the employer contests an unemployment claim but can't provide documentation, the mediator will often find in favor of the employee.

  • If you are disciplined, ask for specifics. For example, you may ask for a copy of a written warning or performance agreement. And Grosdidier recommends asking for a detailed improvement plan that lists specific, actionable steps you should take as well as how your efforts will be measured. It's also important to know the timeline you're working under, who will be available to help you achieve your goals, and what will happen if you fail to meet all the steps outlined in your plan.
  • When you leave a practice, ask for a letter of recommendation. The letter should verify your start and end dates, your wage, and the fact your employment ended because of a lack of work. "That's a telling moment, because that's when you find out what you're really getting laid off for," Grosdidier says.

It's also a good idea to ask who will take the call when a potential employer calls for a reference. If you've mostly worked with the manager, you may want her to take the call instead of the practice owner. The goal is to make sure the person who supervised your work can speak about your performance.

And remember, it's never a good idea to trash a former employer on Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere else on the Internet, because it may come back to haunt you. Grosdidier says a good guideline to steer your social media behavior is to only post comments you'd want a potential employer to see.

While losing a job may not feel good right now, it's important to keep a positive perspective as you look to the future. "I always tell folks, maybe the job was keeping you from where you're supposed to be," Grosdidier says.