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A Veterinarian's Guide to Paid Leave vs. Unpaid Leave

UPDATE 11/15/22

When running your own veterinary practice, you may be so preoccupied with patients (i.e. pets)  that you aren't exactly sure how to manage HR-related issues, like paid leave vs. unpaid leave.

Managing your own veterinary practice is a huge challenge, but to make things easier, we've put together this guide to help you understand the difference between paid leave and unpaid leave. To ensure you run your veterinary practice according to the law, you will need to ensure your HR game is on point. Luckily, we can help.

Different Types of Paid Leave

Paid leave can include many types of leave. Here is a closer look at different types of paid leave and the requirements of the employer in each case:


If your veterinary clinic is open on holidays, you may have to pay your employees premium pay on top of their regular pay, instead of providing paid leave. Either way, the employee must be adequately compensated as per the laws in your state.


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Vacation Time

Vacation days are accumulated with seniority should your practice offer a vacation policy. However, you are not required to offer a vacation policy by federal law. If you choose to, it can help with employee retention.

Your Guide to Paid Leave Vs. Unpaid Leave for Your Veterinary Practice

Sick Leave

On the federal level, there aren't really any laws that require employers to pay sick leave, but many cities and states have their own laws regarding this. In many cases, employers are required to compensate employees for sick leave. This can include a number of sick days throughout the year or an extended period of time for a short-term illness. Before refusing or providing sick leave pay, you will need to look into the rules and regulations in your state to ensure you are following the required protocol. Your veterinary practice could face legal consequences if you do not follow the correct protocol.

Personal Days

As  a veterinary practice owner, you will not be responsible for paying out personal days to your employees. You may offer them if you choose to. This can actually be quite beneficial for employee retention. However, there are currently no federal laws in place that obligate you to pay any personal time off at all.  Before accepting or refusing personal days for your employees, check with your HR consultant to ensure  you are not at risk of wage violations.

Gray Areas in Paid Leave

Paid leave isn't always a clear-cut issue. There are some cases in which there is very little regulation, or the law is vague and doesn't take certain factors into consideration. While parental leave is a requirement in some states, it is not in others. Those employers that are not obligated to provide this benefit  have the discretion to decide whether or not to provide parental benefits to their employees. This can help with employee retention and employee satisfaction in your veterinary clinic.

Certain areas of paid leave present themselves at the state level, not the federal level. For example, pregnancy leave is sometimes at your discretion and sometimes not. Different states have different rules about whether employees are required to receive pay in this case, or if they are simply allowed to retain their position and take unpaid leave instead. It is crucial to inform yourself beforehand, taking into account which federal laws apply to you and which state laws supersede them.

What Is Unpaid Leave?

Unpaid Leave may be required in situations that are deemed essential. For example, if an employee must fulfill jury duty, military leave, or they have another essential reason for temporary absence. The individual’s job will remain protected for them, meaning they can return when their leave is over, and they remain unpaid throughout their leave. In the case of personal reasons for leave, such as a death in the family or other personal reasons, unpaid leave can be offered and isn’t required.

Your Guide to Paid Leave Vs. Unpaid Leave for Your Veterinary PracticeOne example of unpaid leave is through the  Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) which protects qualifying employees with disabilities from losing their employment when they must seek leave from their job. If your employee requests leave under the ADA, you may be required to grant it if the employee meets the qualifying criteria. You as the employer should ensure that you engage in the interactive process to determine if the employee is eligible for a reasonable accommodation. Since these situations should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, you can reach out to HR for Health to discover exactly what you are and aren't required to do for your employees at your veterinary clinic. 

Mental health issues can sometimes fall in a gray area too. In this case, it is important for practices to engage in the interactive process with their employees to determine if a reasonable accommodation will be necessary Mental health issues among your employees should not be ignored, and always ensure you are documenting your conversations and activities around each situation. Providing reasonable accommodations for employees suffering from mental health issues is becoming more common, so it is important to stay up to date on your state/local laws around this type of unpaid leave.


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How HR for Health Can Help

There are several unknowns and variables when it comes to paid leave vs. unpaid leave in your veterinary practice. It can be quite easy to mistakenly deny someone paid or unpaid leave. This can lead to unwanted consequences for your practice. 

To ensure you do not expose your practice to fines and litigation, it's recommended to book a consultation with an HR expert at HR for Health. We can help you build and structure a leave policy that can be incorporated into your employee handbook. We can also offer software tracking for both practice owners and employees to be able to keep track of their time off and other benefits. Our expertise, specific to veterinary and other healthcare clinics, can help save you thousands in legal fees down the road. The cost of HR malpractice is far from negligible.

The rules are sometimes gray, and in many cases, they can vary widely by state. Trust your HR services to the experts at HR for Health to ensure you, your employees, and your practice are always in good hands.

Schedule an HR Consultation