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The job description
In a clinic where everyone helps each other, are there circumstances where team members should be compensated for their extra work?
Simpson Animal Hospital recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. Located on the outskirts of a large northeastern city, it had become a local institution. The original staff of 2 veterinarians, 5 technicians, and 3 receptionists almost quadrupled. Over the years, the small and informal clinic evolved into a computer-dependent, highly regulated medical facility. This became apparent when a unique and challenging staff conflict occurred.
It had become commonplace at the hospital for doctors, technicians, and receptionists to assist one another with tasks that were not part of their everyday responsibilities. For instance, if a technician needed assistance holding a dog for an x-ray or restraining a cat during a nail trim, they might ask an available receptionist to help out. As the animal hospital grew, it became more structured and less informal. But when staff members were hired, they still were informally advised of their work schedule and benefits package and given a general job description. This usually was not an issue. However, the Simpson Animal Hospital recently encountered a challenge to their informal job descriptions.
One of the 39 clinic employees, Lea Lopez, spoke both English and Spanish fluently. She was occasionally called upon as an interpreter in the exam room when there was a client who didn’t speak English. Due to demographic changes in the area, she was being called upon more often to act as a translator. She did not feel that offering this very specialized skill was within her job description. If she was needed to act as an interpreter for a doctor and client in multiple cases each week, she felt that she should be compensated for this unique service.
Lopez presented her proposal about her interpretive tasks to the hospital manager, who quickly pushed back and told her that it was understood that all staff members assist where they are needed. Lopez did not agree with the decision and informed the hospital manager that she no longer would act as an interpreter. The hospital manager was not sympathetic to her response and felt Lopez was not being a team player.
Upon reflection, the hospital manager recognized this as a cautionary tale. Every employee has a right to a comprehensive job description so that they know the parameters of their job. This would have certainly prevented the most recent issue between Lopez and the hospital manager. Detailed job descriptions are often overlooked at clinics with smaller staffs where often everyone has interchangeable staffing obligations. In the end, as collegial as a clinic staff may be, the veterinary facility is a workplace. Should the hospital manager have recognized Lopez’s unique skill and compensated her for it or was she right in saying that all staff members pitch in where they are needed? We would like to know your thoughts.
In this case, the hospital manager did not think through the entire scenario. I believe she should have respectfully considered her staff member’s request. She then could have determined if it was cost-effective to compensate Lopez for her interpreting. If she felt that the clinic could do without a Spanish language interpreter, she could have professionally informed Lopez that she was declining her proposal and that she didn’t need to interpret when called upon in the future. This dilemma reinforces the importance of detailed workplace job descriptions.
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.