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Cancel culture at the veterinary clinic

dvm360dvm360 November 2020
Volume 51
Issue 11

Do practice owners have the right to tell employees what and where they can eat while they’re on the clock?


Ambrose Animal Hospital has grown significantly over the past 12 years. What was 2 doctors and a staff of 11 is now 6 doctors and a staff of 45. Ambrose achieved this growth by practicing progressive medicine, hiring only top-quality staff, and being culturally sensitive. Ambrose believed staff diversity led to greater sense of community and tolerance among team members. Diverse races and sexual orientations were well represented among the hospital staff.

In the midst of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, some of the clinic’s vendors started sending lunch for the front line veterinary workers. Curbside policies prevented the public from entering the hospital, and the staff was discouraged from going to restaurants on their lunch break. Having lunch sent in as well as the newly social distanced break room were much appreciated.

Not long after the lunch spreads started to be delivered, some staff members asked to speak with Ambrose. They explained to the owner that 2 of the restaurants that provided staff lunches advocated distasteful and objectionable policies. One espoused religious beliefs that resulted in homophobic statements, and the other displayed its pride in big game hunting via displays in their restaurants. The staff felt that their diverse workforce should not have to be exposed to services provided by a homophobic company, and a restaurant chain that advocates the killing of non-endangered big game was not consistent with the mission of the veterinary hospital. Ambrose thanked them for their input and verified that the information about the companies was correct.

As the practice owner, Ambrose was not comfortable patronizing any business whose policies offended or demeaned his clinic staff members. He proceeded to write a staff memo outlining his reasons for prohibiting staff from patronizing these restaurants during work hours. He was quite surprised when his memo was not as well received as he had expected.

Several staff members said that although they not approve of the restaurants’ policies, they did not feel their employer should be able to dictate their choice of restaurants. One noted that 2 of the clinic’s staff members ate only kosher food. They always brought their own lunch and did not object to their coworkers’ choice of foods. Another commented that neither restaurant was doing anything illegal.

Ambrose thought these comments were, quite literally, food for thought. He understood why some of his staff thought he was taking a cancel culture stance toward these objectionable restaurants and respected them for sharing their thoughts. He explained that he would never ask his employees not to patronize a business during non-work hours, but that as the practice owner he had the “boss's prerogative” to make the choice he did. He found the restaurants to be morally offensive and in good conscience could not allow their products on his premises. He understood there would be some whispering behind his back but chose to stick to his credo “to thine own self be true.”

Do you agree with Dr. Ambrose? Would you have made the same choice he did? We would like to know.Email your thoughts to dvm360news@mmhgroup.com.

Rosenberg’s response:

Most veterinarians would never turn away someone whose pet is in dire need of veterinary care based on the owner’s lifestyle choices. The animal, of course, is always an innocent victim. As repulsive as the pet owner may be, it is still our job to care for animals in need. Ambrose would never refuse to care for an animal presented by a person who owned what he considered a morally offensive establishment. On the other hand, every individual—veterinarian or not—must decide when and whether they are going to take a stand based on their own moral imperatives.

Ambrose felt that the only way he could tell these 2 restaurant owners that he disapproved of their advocacies was to not purchase their products. He did nothing illegal, he did nothing violent; he simply spoke up with his pocketbook. He was well within his rights as a practice owner to make this decision, but he also had to expect that some staff disapproval would be a price he had to pay for taking a moral stance. Bravo!

Marc Rosenberg, VMD, is director of Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. Although many of the scenarios Rosenberg describes in his column are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors, and employees described are fictional.

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