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January 11, 2023

After my recent post about corporate veterinary consolidation and my concerns, I got a tip about about the related problems of veterinary noncompete clauses and how they affect veterinarian's career options. It affects you too, as a veterinary client. Let's take a look at how and even what the Federal Trade Commission may do about it. 


veterinary noncomplete clauses graphic saying you can't work anywhere else nearby

What are Veterinary Noncompete Clauses?

Basically, it's a section of a veterinary employment contract that says someone cannot go work for another local competitor in the same geographic service area. Usually, veterinary noncomplete clauses and others like them expire somewhere between 6 months and 2 years after someone leaves that job. Basically, it requires people to either move and work farther away or not work at all for a while, which isn't reasonable for most people in our shared economic climate. 

To be fair, it isn't only big corporate veterinary consolidators that insert veterinary noncompete clauses into their employment contracts. Other smaller veterinary hospital owners often include them as well. 

And, as our tipster told me ... "Veterinarians are all screwed with current noncompetes."

How Big are the Geographic Footprints of Veterinary Noncompete Clauses?

Our tipster tells me that it's common for a veterinary hospital offering typical general practice services in a community to set a geographic radius of at least 10 miles. For specialty hospitals, that radius likely extends to 50 miles. 

Even worse? Our tipster says, "I've heard that some [corporate veterinary noncompete clauses] will also include a 50-mile radius around every corporate hospital they own nationwide! So if a veterinarian purchases a house and becomes part of a community, they have to stay with that corporation unless they want a huge driving time to work, or if they are willing to relocate, which doesn't work usually if a spouse also needs to have a job."

How do Veterinary Noncompete Clauses Hurt Veterinarians?

Those opposed to noncompete clauses say that they limit:

  • Veterinary career options - making veterinarians feel stuck
  • Veterinary career growth - making the career path less viable for more people
  • Veterinary career earnings - making financial stresses from high educational debt and other factors untenable
  • Veterinary career satisfaction - making burnout worse and causing veterinarians to flee the profession 

And, they potentially force an expensive relocation. 

How do Veterinary Noncompete Clauses Affect You?

Take this scenario. Let's say there's an amazing veterinarian who works for Hospital A., Over the years you've developed a great working partnership for your pets' care. If that veterinarian changed jobs, you would 100% follow them (which is what hospital owners worry about). 

So, your veterinarian either ends up stuck (and unhappy) at Hospital A because they cannot work for Hospital B nearby, OR you end up having to drive much farther to continue the relationship at Hospital X that's well outside the veterinary noncompete clause's geographic radius. 

The other possibility is that your veterinarian, who again is great, leaves the profession entirely (or worse) due to such limitations on their career. And, you're left starting over with someone else, potentially in the middle of something important in your pets' lives. 

On top of that, it seems almost everyone in the profession faces staffing shortages and trouble hiring and keeping people in a variety of veterinary roles. Bosses say, "We can't find anyone!" Employees feel like there "aren't any good jobs, good-paying jobs anymore."

We've talked before about veterinary care access issues. Staffing issues make that worse too. Noncompetes limit who can be hired. 

What Does the FTC Think About Noncompete Clauses?

That's currently up for commentary and debate (early 2023).

The announcement of the proposed rule says that because of how noncomplete clauses hinder the right to change jobs (economic liberty) and how they restrict worker mobility and suppress wages, including those "not subject to noncompetes," the new rule under consideration would essentially prohibit noncomplete clauses across all sectors of the economy. Also, it would require employers to rescind any existing noncompete clauses and "actively inform workers that they are no longer in effect."

FTC Proposes Rule to Ban Noncompete Clauses, Which Hurt Workers and Harm Competition
Agency estimates new rule could increase workers’ earnings by nearly $300 billion per year

So, we'll see what happens. The commentary period for this proposed new FTC rule ends March 10, 2023.

At quick glance (and keyword search), I found several public comments from veterinarians supporting the rule to abolish noncompete clauses.

Here are some examples I found. 

veterinary noncompete clauses example FTC rule comment 1

The first public comment I found says, "I am a veterinarian and have worked close to 40 years. I have been an associate and a practice owner. I see no justification for non-competes and in fact feel it harms the entire profession. Non-competes are pervasive and notoriously difficult to fight. For many years now I have worked for corporations and have watched colleagues both attempt to negotiate non-competes and bear the brunt of legal battles if they attempt to challenge the non-compete. Should you really have to move your entire family to acquire a job? How do I harm a company by working for their competitor?"

But there are more.

veterinary noncomplete clauses graphic with list of FTC comments from veterinarians (shows snippets of 8, but there are more)
About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

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