Facing the veterinary monster squad

May 18, 2016
Sheila Grosdidier, RVT
Sheila Grosdidier, RVT

Sheila Grosdidier, RVT, has worked in the field of veterinary medicine for over 30 years. She earned her B.S. degree in Human Behavioral Science at New York Institute of Technology and her A.A. in Veterinary Technology at Maple Woods College. She has completed post-graduate work in psychology and adult learning and has authored textbook chapters on professional development, practice management and nutrition. Most recently she co-authored The Art of Veterinary Practice Management, 2nd Edition.

Aaaaaaah! Youre the star of a horror flick that takes place in your veterinary hospital, with the demons and creeps played by some awful coworkers. But you can survive! Learn about the hairy problems these fiends put you in and whether their thoughtless or malicious behavior is bullying, harassment or just really, really annoying.

These pictures are giving us the heeby-jeebies already ... (Photos Getty Images)Does your veterinary hospital feel like a horror movie? Creeps, schemers and monsters crowding your good feelings about practice, patients and pet owners?

Scary film music! Dun dun duuuuuuuun!

Here are six frightening characters you face, how to stay safe during their scariest outbursts and behavior, and whether what they're doing rises from annoying pest to a call-911-and-involve-the-lawyers moment ...


Beware Back-biting Brandon! (Photo Getty Images)He's a strangely back-stabbing brown-noser. He always acts like he agrees with the boss's ideas, but later, in private, gripes about them with you. Makes you wonder what he says about you when you're not around.

“Don't open that door!”

Don't give him the magical power to change how you feel about your job, your boss or the workplace. Don't spend a lot of time gossiping about his behavior with others and make no response to encourage Brandon to continue with his annoying comments. He's trying to get a rise out of you. Just politely smile and don't engage.

“Will you survive?”

Not bullying or harassment, unless it's coupled with other behavior.


Get away from Gossiping Greta! (Photo Getty Images)She discusses anything and everything about the private lives of her coworkers. Sometimes disregarding the truth, she often insinuates, rushes to judgment or bad-mouths other team members-but always on the sly.

“You sure you saw a ghost?”

In a polite and professional manner-and in private-address the situation in a non-threatening manner. Ask how she heard the statement and whether it could be a misunderstanding. Ask whether she can help you stop untrue statements like these from spreading.

“Will you survive?”

Only in severe conditions is this bullying or harassment.


Cut your losses with Cutthroat Katie! (Photo Getty Images)

She's quick to take credit for work you've done and looks for ways to make you look incompetent. She wants to seem the savior of all things veterinary.

“Hands off, witch!”

Ask her how the “misunderstanding” happened and ask her to clarify to the boss that you saved the day, not her. If you're sure Katie has taken credit for your work and won't apologize and make it right, it's time to let your manager know you want to resolve this situation in the interest of assuring good working relationships. Chances are good that your manager has heard this statement before about the team member.

“Will you survive?”

Unless this is part of an assortment of other offensive actions, it's annoying, possibly bullying in its extreme form, but only harassment if based on discrimination.


Don't bother speaking up with Silent Sylvia! (Photo Getty Images)She always says the same thing: "Can't we all just get along?" In other words, “Please stop complaining.” With Sylvia, concerns always fall on deaf ears, even when good team members quit in frustration.

“No way am I going first!”

Think long and hard before you bring an issue to Sylvia's attention. When you do really need her support, ask her directly, make clear how it's really in her best interest, and make it easy for her to help you.

For example, you could say, “Erin and I are struggling with the team schedule. Here's what I recommend we do. Will you support that? Can I confirm that with Erin right now?” Remember to reinforce how the decision helps Sylvia and that you know how busy she is and that you just want to help her make a great decision.

“Will you survive?”

Sylvia's actions may make her a poor manager and unprofessional, but it's only actionable if her silence and inaction allows harassment or bullying to occur.


Step away from Sweetie Pie Steven! (Photo Getty Images)He thinks nothing of referring to female colleagues as "honey," "sweetheart" and "baby." He's irritating, sexist and condescending.

“Keep your distance!”

Avoid giving Steven personal information. Be pleasant and polite, and remember that Steven takes delight in getting things twisted.

“Will you survive?”

Steven's a jerk and should seek to acquire a better personality, but unless it's discriminatory or coupled with bullying actions, his personality (or lack thereof) is something you'll have to deal with.


Give the old heave-ho to Hands-On Henry! (Photo Getty Images)

He can't keep his distance from other staff members, not to mention his staring and crude remarks. Even his double entendres have double entendres.

“I will put you DOWN!”

Tell Henry, right then and there, “Whoa, out of bounds.” Be direct in letting Henry know that his actions are unprofessional and unacceptable. Tell him to stop.

“Will you survive?”

Tell your supervisor you consider this to be sexual harassment. Review your practice's sexual harassment policy. If Henry doesn't change his behavior, escalate the matter.

OK, now that we've got the creeps out of the way, let's get to more solutions on the next page ...


(Photo Getty Images)Team members' guide to surviving the apocalypse (or just rude, mean, selfish or inappropriate coworkers)

• Scream! (Don't scream, but, y'know, speak up.) Don't assume that coworkers are aware you're offended. Given a chance, colleagues generally will try to be more thoughtful in the future.

• Run for help! (Go to your supervisor, and further up the chain, if necessary.) Harassment complaints are important and should be taken seriously.

• Check the books! (Review your veterinary practice's policy on harassment.) No policy? Talk to your boss to find out what will be done to resolve the issue.

• Watch out! Document in detail everything that's happened, including dates and summaries of conversations with your boss and the outcome of each meeting. Be reasonable about how you want this resolved, and remember that it takes time to complete an investigation. You should expect your boss to keep you informed of findings and what's being done to resolve the matter.

• Call in Uncle Sam! If the situation persists, you may have to file a harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (Note that, if your practice has only a few employees, compliance with federal law may not be mandatory.) Click here for information on this process.


(Photo Getty Images)Practice managers' guide to leading the last survivors (of working with crappy coworkers)

• Check the books! (Review your practice's anti-harassment policy.) Make sure your veterinary clinical complies with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules. The “Equal Employment Opportunity Is the Law” poster (click here to download the PDF) details what constitutes harassment and what to do in case of harassment. Put the poster in a conspicuous place in your practice so employees see it.

• Don't wait for disaster! Be proactive and raise awareness before you ever get a complaint. Train all managers on anti-harassment policies. Emphasize that any harassment or bullying in the practice is a serious policy violation that could result in job termination. Ensure that all supervisors, managers and owners receive thorough training. Conscientious staff members can prevent harassment situations from escalating into creating a hostile work environment.

• Watch out! Keep detailed records when investigating any harassment allegation. Take complaints seriously and respond with immediate action. Communicate confidentially with the team member who made the complaint, and offer him or her information about the status and outcome of the investigation.

• Don't throw anyone to the wolves! (Guard against retaliation.) Take action to ensure that no retaliation occurs to any employee who files a complaint. Honor that employee's trust by abiding by confidentiality protocol.

• Be the hero! Determine what needs to be done to resolve the situation-disciplinary action, termination or training-and then move swiftly to get the complaint resolved.


(Photo Getty Images)Wailing on whispers

Is it time to beat down gossip at your practice. Here's how:

• Put it in a policy. Outline for the team what is acceptable. (Click here to download a Word doc with a sample policy.)

• Gossip ends if it's not passed on. It can stop with you. Don't get wrapped up in what may not be true. If it's work-related, ask the right person.

• If it's malicious, it may be harassment. Advise team members to consider carefully before making untrue statements about others.

• Managers: Teach your team to recognize gossip. Remember that you can stop some gossip with clear communication in a timely manner. Be honest and open whenever possible and build trust. Reward team members who cooperate and don't use gossip to compete with coworkers.

Does bad behavior at your veterinary practice constitute bullying or sexual harassment? Head to the next page for a survival plan for those serious issues ...


(Photo Getty Images)Bullying and harassment resources

• workplacebullying.org has information about-and assistance for-employees and employers managing, preventing and eliminating bullying in the workplace. Plus, updates on federal and state law.

• This website provides clear examples of harassment policies for use in employee manuals.

• This website is the LGBTQ-friendly Human Rights Campaign's website for tracking laws and legal policy about harassment of many kinds.


(Photo Getty Images)Beating bullies (no, not literally)

Bullying is chronic, disrespectful, aggressive actions that often include verbal abuse, humiliation, threats, damage to work product, psychological abuse and exclusion. Bullies can operate solo or in a group. Here's what you need to know to beat a bully:

• Bullies can operate only when employers fail to provide a safe workplace.

• As unpleasant and unfair as it is, laws may not prohibit a bully's actions if it's not harassment.

• If you think bullying is happening, keep a record of instances and who was present.

• You may not be alone. Check with coworkers and get their feedback.

• Use the right terms. This isn't a difference in personalities or a “learn to get along” situation. If it's bullying, call it that.

• If the boss says you need to work it out on your own, point out how the situation could be affecting the business, not just you. Use this worksheet to calculate the cost of bullying to the practice.

• Seek emotional support from your family or professional counseling if bullying hurts your well-being or your relationships with others.

• In extreme situations, it may be appropriate to talk to a lawyer or to leave the practice completely and pursue legal options. Sadly, sometimes these conditions can't be resolved, and it's best to move on.


(Photo Getty Images)Hammer down harassment

Worse than bullying and way past annoying, harassment laws prohibit employees and employers from engaging in aggressive actions based on age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, color, military history or disability. Here's what you need to know about harassment and how to deal with it:

What counts as harassment

• Managers, practice owners, coworkers or anyone who provides services to the practice (relief doctor, groomer, and so on) can be a harasser.

• You can be considered harassed even if the offensive conduct wasn't directed at you, but to someone else in your workplace.

• Harassment is hostility, intimidation, unreasonable actions, isolating activities, offensive pictures/gestures/or photos, ridicule or interference with the performance of your job that would be considered abusive by most people.

• Infrequent interactions, minor slights or exchanges-while disturbing to an employee-usually don't count. Harassment is typically continued, steady or escalating actions.

What to do about harassment

• Tell the harasser his or her actions are unacceptable. Remove yourself from the conversation in the moment if the harassment continues or gets worse.

• Keep a journal of events that occur.

• Review your practice's policies on harassment, and ask a supervisor to explain anything you need clarified.

• Explain to your supervisor, manager or practice owner what occurred and why you believe it was harassment. Your journal of events and interactions can be important in demonstrating that this is not just a misunderstanding or a conflict between employees.

• Ask for an investigation of your statements.

How to escalate a harassment claim

• If you cannot resolve the situation, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (eeoc.org) to file a formal complaint. Then file a formal complaint with your manager.

• If you are feeling overwhelmed with stress or anxiety with the situation, please seek professional help.

Sheila Grosdidier, RVT, is a principal at VMC Inc. in Evergeeen, Colorado.