Mentoring Minds: Laws, Liability, Mentoring in the Veterinary Clinic
November/December 2001 California Veterinarian
By Jon Klingborg, DVM
It takes a great deal of determination to make it into (and through) veterinary school. Many of our colleagues can thank a mentor for helping them develop their love for the profession; it’s always been an important way to foster the next generation of veterinarians. Today’s practitioners are asked to continue this tradition of apprenticeship. With so many careers from which to choose, we need to cultivate bright young minds and nurture them to become veterinarians.
This article will help you to navigate the legal aspects of mentoring in your practice.
What is the advantage to you to mentor and employ a student who hopes to become a veterinarian? The greatest reward is the contribution you make to the profession. A significant second reward is that you are nurturing a youngster who has demonstrated a willingness to work hard and learn outside of school—and as a mentor, you have an impact on another person’s life and future. Also worth considering is that in a teaching or mentoring experience, we are presented with a new perspective, and this can result in positive change in our clinics.
Is the future veterinary student a volunteer or an employee? In almost all situations, any student in your practice will be considered an employee by the State of California. Recent legal precedents in California have made it clear that even if a student is enrolled in a mentoring/apprenticeship program, if they are performing work, then receiving “knowledge” is not adequate compensation—a wage must also be paid. If your volunteer begins to perform work, and they are not being paid for it, it is potentially a serious breach of child labor and minimum wage laws. Also check your workers’ compensation policy for possible coverage on volunteers, which could result in a negligible monetary cost.
To protect yourself and your practice, current law suggests that you hire the “future veterinarian” whom you are mentoring.
Nurturing future colleagues is rewarding and worthwhile. Please join the ranks of many hard working veterinary mentors in California and help us foster the next generation of veterinarians.
A Summary of Laws Regulating Minors (under age 18) in the Veterinary Practice:
1. Once a minor performs any function in your clinic that may be interpreted as work (such as holding a leash or cleaning a cage), they have become an “employee” and you are bound by the applicable labor laws.
2. Any minor who has not graduated from high school (or achieved a certificate of equivalency) must have a work permit.
3. You cannot legally employee any minor under 14 years of age.
4. Minors ages 14-15:
- may not work more than three hours on a school day
- may not be employed during school hours
- may not be employed for more than 18 hours per week
- during the school year, a minor may not work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m.
- during summer vacation (June 1 through Labor Day) a minor may work until 9 p.m.
5. Minors ages 16-17:
- may not work more than four hours on a school day, except: on a school day preceding a non school day (Friday and certain holiday weekends), a minor may work eight hours.
6. You must provide minors with workers’ compensation coverage to the same extent as you would an adult employee.
7. As an employer, you must keep records on all employees, including minors, for date of birth, daily starting and quitting times, and daily and weekly hours worked.