Navigating Noncompete Clauses in Veterinary Medicine

Ben Spinks, MBA, CVPM, SPHR, Tipp City Veterinary Hospital, Tipp City, Ohio

ArticleLast Updated December 20234 min read
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Editor's note: On April 23, 2024, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a ban on noncompete clauses in the United States.

Dear Second Opinion,

I recently graduated veterinary school and have been reviewing employment offers. I was prepared to negotiate salary and paid time off, but I did not anticipate contracts with restrictive agreements. My partner and I recently purchased a home to be near family and friends, and I am intimidated by the noncompete terms in the job offers I have received. Some seem reasonable (eg, short distance radius, time frame), but others are quite restrictive. I understand practice owners need to protect their businesses, but I also need to protect myself and my career.

I have received some tempting job offers, but agreeing to the noncompete clauses makes me apprehensive. My biggest fears are whether the hospital is the right fit for me and whether my future options could be limited because of a noncompete clause. Are noncompete clauses the new normal for our industry? When limiting distance, how far is too far? For time frames, how long is too long?


Nervous About Noncompetes

Dear Nervous About Noncompetes,

Congratulations on graduating from veterinary school and receiving promising job offers! It's a testament to your hard work and potential in the field. Your apprehension regarding noncompete clauses is understandable and increasingly shared by many in our profession. These clauses aim to protect a practice's interests but can be overly restrictive for veterinarians concerned about their future career mobility.

In the United States, the legal landscape surrounding noncompete clauses is evolving, and these clauses have been unenforceable for decades in 5 states. Recently, several additional states have passed legislation to limit or prohibit their enforceability. There is also consideration at the federal level to limit or restrict these clauses. Most notably, the Federal Trade Commission has proposed a rule to ban noncompete clauses nationwide that would prohibit or significantly restrict new noncompete agreements and likely require employers to rescind or modify existing ones.

Seeking legal advice from a lawyer experienced in veterinary industry contracts is crucial, as they can provide insights into the enforceability of noncompete clauses in your area and ideas to help you navigate the negotiation process. In your case and many others, the extreme shortage of veterinarians gives associates increased bargaining power.

There are steps you can take when considering a job offer with a noncompete clause.

  1. Ask for a legal review. Have the contract reviewed by a lawyer who understands the veterinary industry and is up-to-date with the latest legal developments.

  2. Negotiate terms. If the noncompete terms seem overly restrictive, negotiate for more favorable conditions. Consider factors like the geographical scope, duration, and conditions under which the clause is enforceable. Ask for a 6- to 9-month nonenforcement clause in case the practice is not a good fit.

  3. Weigh professional growth. Look beyond the contract terms. Consider the professional development opportunities, work environment, and how the opportunity aligns with your long-term career goals.

  4. Stay informed. Keep yourself informed about the legislative changes regarding noncompete clauses. This knowledge can be a powerful tool in negotiations.

  5. Trust your judgment. Choose the path that aligns with your career aspirations and personal values. It’s okay to consider other opportunities if a contract feels too restrictive and negotiations do not yield satisfactory changes.

  6. Consider starting your own practice. Starting your own practice may be outside the scope you are currently considering, but it’s the only way to entirely control your own path.

This is undoubtedly a complex decision, but it’s also a common challenge. With proper guidance and a clear understanding of your rights and options, you can make a decision that best benefits your life and career in the long term.

Best of luck as you embark on this exciting new phase of your career! 

Ben Spinks, MBA, CVPM, SPHR