SynergyVets is a dedicated veterinary recruitment agency, with almost 30 years of collective experience supporting the profession with locum and permanent personnel. They have a great blog which includes advice for veterinary candidates and students. They have kindly written this article for you.

Contracts can be confusing documents, stuffed with legal language and intimidating statements. There’s always a temptation to just skim over a contract when you trust your employers, but your employment contract is one of the most important documents you will own, and you need to read it thoroughly before signing it.

If you are starting any UK veterinary work, you will need a signed, written contract to legally validate your employment. This contract will state your terms of employment and can be used as a reference in case of any disputes, so make sure to ask about it if your new employer hasn’t mentioned one before you start.

The different types of contract

Your contract will vary depending on what type of veterinary work you will be doing. A standard veterinary contract will be very different from agency and locum vet contracts.

Permanent vet contracts

With the majority of vet contracts, you are an employee and your employer is the practice you will be working at. As such, you will be paid a salary rather than an hourly rate, under the agreement of working an average number of hours in a week. If you are working in a permanent vet role, you will be entitled to all of the benefits of a standard UK working contract, such as sick pay, holiday allowance and pension contributions.

Agency contracts

As an agency worker, you will have a contract with your agency who will find you work for set periods of time. Your notice period, rate of pay and holiday allowance will be determined in the contract with the agency rather than with the temporary employer. However, the agency must disclose any specific details of the work placement, such as the start date, the length of the contract, the number of hours and your role responsibilities.

Locum vet contracts

As a locum vet, you will tend to get a higher hourly rate of pay, but you will not receive benefits such as holiday pay and sick pay. Instead, you are considered as self-employed, but you will have a contract with each practice you work at. 

These contracts should state the start and end date of your employment and working hours, as well as your hourly rate, charge for callouts and any expenses that will be paid by the practice such as travel costs. Even though you are not a permanent worker as a locum vet, you are still entitled to basic worker’s rights and fair treatment.

Basic working rights

Despite the intensity of veterinary work and the amount of training required to get into the field, this doesn’t mean your basic working rights are ignored. Everyone has the legal right to be treated fairly at work and there are a number of laws in place that protect your rights as a worker.

Even entry and low-level roles should be on an hourly rate in accordance with the national minimum wage. This is in your employer’s interest too, as any company found to be paying their employees less than the minimum wage face large personal fines as well as having to pay back employees the money they are owed.

You are also entitled to holiday even if you are an agency worker, but the amount of statutory leave will vary as most jobs work on a system where you accrue your holiday days from time worked. For example, working 5-day weeks for a year would result in an accruement of 28 days paid holiday.

Your contract should also provide you with suitable rest breaks in accordance with the statutory minimum length and protection against unfair dismissal and unlawful deductions from wages.

Notice periods

While it may seem a little pre-emptive to be thinking about your notice period, just like everything else in your contract, it’s best to review it before you sign. Eventually, you may want to move jobs and you need to know what your rights are when it comes to terminating your contract with your current employer. 

Failure to comply with the notice period in your company could result in legal action and, at the very least, a bad reputation that could harm your future employment opportunities.

Whilst between 14 and 28 days are the most common time periods you hear when talking about notice periods for vets, there is no set standard in the UK, and the time can vary widely depending on the position and the individual practice. 

It may seem like an intimidating conversation to have, but if something doesn’t seem right with your notice period, speak to your new employer or HR department to discuss it before you sign. Most reputable companies will be transparent with their policies and practices and should be happy to talk about these with you.

Check the salary

Typically, you will have discussed the specified annual salary with your new employer before you accept the position but, if you haven’t, make sure you talk to them before you sign your contract to be sure they are paying you a fair wage for the position. 

Whilst entry and low-level positions aren’t as well paid as more senior positions, you should still expect a salary that reflects the amount of training and experience required for you to get the job.

If you have discussed a salary at any stage, be it during the interview process, over email correspondence or otherwise, make sure this figure is the same in your contract. Whilst employers do have the right to decide what salary to offer you in your contract, they should discuss any changes to previously discussed figures before offering you the position. The job market is incredibly competitive at the moment, but don’t try and beat it by allowing employers to take advantage.

The starting salary for newly qualified vets in the UK is around £30,000, but further training can raise this figure to over £40,000 and, as you become more experienced in the industry, you can expect that figure to be even higher.

Check the working hours

It has almost become a given that those in the healthcare and medical industries work long hours, but your contract must still adhere to the basic working rights of the UK. You have the right to not work more than 48 hours a week on average, but you also have the right to opt out of this with your employer, just make sure you are properly compensated for any extra time you put in.

With the nature of medical work, your working hours may vary drastically from the average worker, especially with being on call and responding to emergency callouts. However, you are still entitled to daily rest breaks of 11 consecutive hours in a 24-hour period, a weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours in a seven day week, and a rest break of at least 20 minutes on shifts over 6 hours long.

Remember, a contract isn’t just there to protect your employer, it is an agreement that protects you as well. Despite the daunting amount of terms and conditions in most contracts, it’s in your best interest to read it fully, and the only way you can guarantee the protection of your working rights is with a legally-binding, written and signed contract.

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