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The Dilemma: The reference
Marc Rosenberg, VMD, presents a case of an employee referral that was not well received.
All names and businesses in this Dilemma case are fictitious, but the scenario is based on real occurrences.
Friendley Animal Hospital is a companion animal care center in the Southwest. For 16 years, this clinic has cared for the animals in this suburban community. The staff of 27, including 4 veterinarians, has grown quickly in the past 3 years. Some of this growth was due to the COVID-19 pet population increase, but most stemmed from quality medicine and community growth.
The staff members were highly skilled and able to explain complex medical issues in an understandable fashion. John Hayes, the veterinarian, felt that never settling for mediocrity and always striving for excellence was the secret to the clinic’s success. Recently, a valuable and skilled technician started speaking with coworkers about subjects that made the clinic owner uncomfortable. The technician had a problem with some of the clinic’s benefits offerings. She told her coworkers that the medical plan offering was poor and that the employee contribution was too high. In general, she felt the benefits package was not comparable to those offered by other veterinary clinics this size. Her resolution was to lobby her coworkers and, hopefully, pressure their boss into revisiting this segment of the employee package.
Hayes had a meeting with his outspoken technician to discuss her issues. At the meeting, his technician was cordial and respectful but clearly stated that she thought the clinic’s staff benefits were lacking. Hayes defended his clinic policies. He stated that the clinic income did not allow more extravagant benefits and he chose to put any discretionary monies toward employee salary increases. He added that he respected her beliefs but was unhappy with her attempting to spread discontent among her coworkers. She responded that she felt she was doing nothing wrong by sharing her opinions with others.
Hayes pondered the situation and felt that a staff member who undermined the morale of the workforce was not a good fit for his clinic. He again met with the technician and told her that he had decided to make a change and was discharging her. The technician was disappointed but also knew her skills would easily place her in another veterinary clinic.
Ten days later, Hayes received an inquiry from a nearby facility asking for a reference about this technician. Hayes told the inquiring hospital manager that the applicant was highly skilled and dependable, and worked well with clients. When asked why she left her job, Hayes said it was a mutual decision based on her life priorities. He soon learned she had gotten the job she applied for.
Then, 4 months later, Hayes received a call from the same hospital manager. She reported that the technician he recommended proved to be disruptive and, after much chaos, had to be terminated. She went on to ask Hayes whether he had noted these tendencies and, if so, why he did not mention them earlier. Hayes said he gave an honest reference. The hospital manager told him that his reference was deceptive, and he simply could have chosen to not discuss a reference at all. She added that he acted in an unprofessional manner.
Two months later, Hayes received a notice from the state’s board of veterinary examiners. He was being asked to respond to a complaint that he acted in an unprofessional and unethical manner when referencing his technician to an inquiring veterinary facility. Hayes felt he did nothing wrong. He did state that her “life situation priorities” were the reason she left. The clinic that filed a complaint against Hayes felt that his deception led to them making a disastrous decision based on his input. They went on to say he simply could have declined to give a reference. Now it was in the state board’s hands.
How should the state board handle this complaint? We would like to know your thoughts.
Dr Rosenberg’s comment
When a veterinary facility contacts another for information, whether it be medical or human resource in nature, honesty is an ethical mandate. When a reference inquiry is made, there is no obligation for the previous employer to give a reference. A response can simply be that “I choose not to respond to your request.” Giving false or misleading information should never be part of a reference response. Comments of this nature can lead to unnecessary workplace damage. The veterinary regulatory agency should consider this unprofessional behavior and that Hayes should be cautioned about not repeating this behavior in the future.