Veterinarian Sign-On Bonus (Must You Pay It BACK?)
Is it likely that a veterinarian must pay back their bonuses if they terminate their employment contract early? Generally, the answer is yes, but it just depends on your employment agreement and the professional benefits offered. Normally, when you receive a bonus, they go by a lot of different names, maybe a signing bonus, a sign-on bonus, a commencement bonus, relocation bonus, and relocation expenses. Those are just some examples. But what those are a big lump sum that you receive as your income at the beginning, either when you sign or whenever you start your employment. And normally they always have some type of payback provision or forgiveness period. And that’s anywhere from one to three years. The language in a typical employment contract would state something like if you terminated your employment within one to three years, you would have to pay back either the full amount or a prorated amount, depending on how many months you’ve been employed.
Do You Get a Retention Bonus?
This is something that’s serious because signing bonuses for veterinarians right now are very high. That’s a large amount of money, over 25,000 normally. And when you receive that, it’s considered income, and taxes are taken off the top. So, you’re not even receiving that full amount that you now are promising to pay back. You want to be very careful about what you’re signing. Again, one to three years is normally the time frame. Sometimes it’s for the term of the contract, and sometimes it’s shorter. With our clients, I always suggest limiting it to either one year or getting that amount prorated. So, for each month that you stay employed with the practice, a portion of that amount is forgiven. If you’re there half the time, you only have to pay back half the bonus.
So, yes, it’s likely if you do terminate and there are bonuses that you may have to pay those back early. As I said, when you’re in the negotiation process, that’s something you may want to negotiate, a shorter period of forgiveness. Mainly like one year, I think, is reasonable. But if they don’t go for that, then I would suggest prorating it so that amount is forgiven every month or quarter, or year that you’ve fulfilled your contract. There are other bonuses. Sometimes they call CME expenses, bonuses, or they treat them like that. And you may have to repay that. Other topics of interest include:
- Should a Veterinarian be Reimbursed for Moving Expenses?
- How Much Should a Veterinarian get for CME Expenses?
Relocation expenses, that one as well, as I said, you may have to repay back. Anything that’s considered like a retention bonus, that’s different and it’s structured differently. A retention bonus is normally when you receive it at the end of the year. You complete a year, then you receive that bonus. That type of bonus you’re not likely to pay back because the whole point of it was that you stayed for the year. You completed that requirement; therefore, you get that bonus. You don’t have to pay that one back. The other thing is production bonuses or collection bonuses. Those are based on the collections or the productions that you bring in for the company. Normally, those are structured in that you have to produce or collect more or sometimes even double your base salary, those types of bonuses you receive.
It’s not the money upfront, they must collect first. Those types of bonuses, production, or collection normally don’t have to be paid back either. It just depends, but any type of signing bonus or relocation bonus that you receive at the beginning of your employment, or right after signing the agreement, those you will likely have to pay back. It’s going to say in your employment contract, so you should always read it carefully before signing and try to negotiate those terms, so that it’s something more favorable to you, and it’s reasonable on both sides.
In a veterinarian employment agreement, should a veterinarian receive reimbursement for their CME or continuing their education? The answer is yes, they should. If they’re considered an employee, this is one of those business expenses that they should be reimbursed for. This typically looks like an employment contract. You’re normally given some type of, we call it CME or CE allowance, and it’s an annual amount that you can receive. Sometimes it’s just paid directly to you, sometimes most likely it’s reimbursement. But how this works is that you sign up for your continuing education and your employer will reimburse you up to a certain amount, but let’s talk about that actual amount. Normally, it’s going to be anywhere from 3000 to 5,000 annually.
The reason why the employer typically picks this up or reimburses is you need your license to practice and provide services for them to collect on those services. And for you to do your job, this is something that you need. And that’s why they reimburse you for it. A couple of things you also want to look out for regarding your continuing education. One, you want to know, are you given additional PTO days? If you go to a conference, are you going to have to use your vacation time, or are you going to be provided additional days? That’s paid time off, that’s typically anywhere from three to five days. It’s added on top of your normal vacation or PTO time. The other thing you want to look out for, I’ve seen it a couple of times, in an employment contract, it may state that if you don’t fulfill that year or the initial term of the contract, you may have to pay back that CME reimbursement.
It’s kind of rare, but I have seen it. So, you just want to make sure that that’s something you’re looking out for. And then also kind of going down the line, normally, if you are in any sort of professional organization that might have continuing education opportunities as well, those would also be reimbursed. Again, if it’s something that you need to provide services, then you should be reimbursed or given an allowance. And I would say the more specialized you get into veterinary medicine, the more allowance you’re given for CMEs.
Another thing that’s kind of closely related to that is board expenses. If you just graduated and you’re studying for your board, sometimes you get paid time off anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks, and then any of your board certification or board expenses or materials that you’re studying, any of that can also be reimbursed from your employer. But again, anytime you’re receiving large amounts of funds, there’s normally some type of strings attached to it. You want to be careful, read your contract very carefully. There’s normally a period of forgiveness, so normally, you have to be employed for any time from one to three years. And if you terminate your employment within that time, you may have to pay back a portion or all that amount. For board expenses, that’s normally always listed in there.
CME, it’s a little bit rare, but I have seen it. And if they’re not offering CME expenses or reimbursement, that’s something that you want to ask for, because it is typical within your industry to reimburse veterinarians for this.
What business expenses should be covered in the veterinary employment contract? There are many things that could be covered, but I’m going to go over the basics and the most common ones we see. The most common one is continuing education. Normally, there is an allowance, so a max amount that you can get reimbursed for, and it’s anywhere from 2.000 to 4,000, depending on how specialized you are and where you are in the country. How much would your practice pay out for that? Continuing education expenses could include books, conferences, and travel expenses to conferences. The list kind of goes on from there, but you are normally given some type of continuing education or CE or CME allowance annually because you must keep up with those in order to keep your license.
So, continuing education is the first one. The second most common likely is your licensing and dues and any type of professional membership, so AVMA membership, there are lots of local memberships that you could join, and sometimes they’re spelled out exactly which memberships your veterinary clinic or practice will pay for. And sometimes they leave that discretion to you. It’s very important that you read your agreement so that you know what sort of business expenses, and you know exactly what is going to be reimbursed. So, membership should absolutely be included, dues and licensing fees, so your state veterinary license and your renewals are important if you’re licensed in more than one state. Occasionally, both of those would be covered. You may need a DEA license and those can get expensive.
If you do, then that would be covered as well under your reimbursement. Now, sometimes these are capped at a certain amount. Sometimes they’re grouped in with your CE allowance. They’ll just say like 4,000 for all those ancillary or business expenses. It just depends on your agreement, but they should be listed there. And it depends on how they’re paid out, but they should be reimbursed in some way because you’re not getting any sort of tax incentives if you are paying those out and they do add up in their annual fees.
So, over time, that’s a lot of money coming out of your pocket. Another thing that’s common is relocation expenses. If you’re moving to a clinic or a practice from out of state or cross country, typically, you will be granted some type of relocation allowance or reimbursement, and that’s anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000. Again, it’s structured differently, depending on if you’re joining more of a corporate practice or private. Sometimes they have to reimburse the companies directly for your moving expenses. Other times they’ll just give it to you in a large amount and just expect that it goes towards relocation expenses. If they structure it more like a bonus, it is taxed as income.
So, just be aware of that. If it says $10,000 for relocation expenses paid out in one lump sum, you won’t be getting that full 10,000 because taxes will come off the top before you receive that. That’s just something you need to keep in mind. And then I would say almost always malpractice insurance is covered. And as you know, it’s normally through the AVMA and that’s also either reimbursed or they will go ahead and take out the policy in your name. So, this is kind of a rundown of the typical business expenses. Some veterinarians do travel a lot, so travel expenses are typically covered if you’re mobile and this can even mean providing you with a vehicle or giving you some type of maintenance fees, reimbursements, gas, something like that.
And then also, I guess if you’re mobile, you’re typically granted some type of cell phone reimbursement because that’s going to be important. You’re going to need that in order to provide those services. So, that’s just kind of a rundown of the typical business expenses that are included in a veterinary contract for employment.
Relocation of a Veterinary Employee
Should a veterinarian be reimbursed for relocation expenses? And the answer to this is yes, you should be reimbursed by your employer. You might be moving across the state, out of state, across the country, or wherever it may be from, if it’s a reasonable distance, your employer should provide you with some type of relocation reimbursement. It’s typically structured in one of three ways in your employment contract. So, you should read it carefully to know what steps you need to take to receive that reimbursement. The first way and I would say the most common way is it’s almost structured as a bonus. Sometimes they call it a relocation allowance, or relocation bonus, and they will just give you a flat fee upfront anywhere between 10,000 to 20,000.
The important thing to remember is that if it’s structured this way as a bonus, it would be considered income and therefore, your taxes will be taken off the top. So, you won’t be receiving that full amount. Whatever it is, if it’s structured as a bonus, just keep in mind you will have taxes taken off from that amount before you receive it. But once you receive those funds, then you can use them however you like, if it’s reasonable for relocation. The next way I typically see it structured is you provide your employer with receipts of anything that has to do with reasonable relocation or moving expenses, and then they will reimburse you directly. It’s typical. There’s normally a max of how much they will reimburse. And again, it’s normally between 10 to 20,000.
And then, you don’t have to get prior approval, you just need to give your receipts. And then the third way is probably the least common I’ve seen in veterinary employment contracts, but that’s where the employer would pay the moving expenses or like the moving companies directly. And most of the time, if it’s that scenario, you do have to get prior approval from the employer that they’ll reimburse those companies. That’s kind of the third way. Again, you have to read your employment agreement to know, do you need prior approval? Is this going to be a lump sum that they’re going to give you and how that’s kind of structured?
And then lastly, I want to discuss, if you are granted relocation, expenses, allowance, reimbursement, or however it’s structured, there’s always some type of payment like a payback provision or forgiveness period. Typically, it’s anywhere between one to three years, you have to work for this practice or clinic. But if you terminate your employment with them before the end of that time, you will either have to pay back the full amount of relocation expenses that they’ve reimbursed or given you or sometimes they’ll prorate it per month of your employment. Let’s just say, for example, you must work for the company for three years. If you terminate your employment with them before the three years, it’s prorated. So, if you work for one and a half years, and terminate your agreement, then you’ll likely have to pay back half of those expenses or allowance. So again, you want to keep that in mind. Whenever you sign these contract agreements, you’re looking to the future. You’re going to be able to fulfill this contract because if you’re not, you really want to seriously consider taking that amount of money at the beginning.
Corporate Practice and a Veterinary Employment Contract
What are the pros and cons of a veterinarian working in more of a corporate clinic setting? When working for a corporation, there are a lot of pros, starting with the benefits that are typically offered such as health insurance, retirement, disability, life insurance, sometimes travel, and cell phones. The list just kind of goes on from there. There are more benefits that are going to be offered to you in a more corporate clinic. Also, the facilities typically are more standardized. If there’s more than one location that you’re going to be providing services at, normally, they’re standard between the locations. And then also support staff. Normally, you’re fully staffed with the people that you need and the equipment within the facilities.
So, this is great. You’ve got benefits, the facilities are great. Sometimes the pay can be more in a corporate setting, I would say often, you are typically compensated more. Those are just kind of the pros depending on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for benefits, you’re looking for things that are more standardized policies, also with admin, then that’s considered a pro for a corporate clinic. Some cons that you want to kind of think about are you’re normally not able to negotiate quite as much in an employment contract. When you’re initially starting your employment with them, it’s typically offered the same sort of agreement for all the other veterinarians that are similarly situated. Also, you want to think about your compensation.
That is one thing that you can sometimes negotiate in a corporate clinic. Some other cons and probably the biggest one, well, I would say there are probably two. One, there’s normally a lot of expectations for how many clients you’re going to be seeing in their animals per day, there are quotas, there are maximums, there are minimums of expectations that you must meet. And if you’re not meeting those, there are consequences to those. That’s something that you want to consider if that’s something that you feel up to. I would say another con is normally the non-compete clauses. They are extensive. There’s going to probably be multiple locations, large miles from each location that you’re going to be restricted.
And then normally, for an extended period, the biggest con of a corporate clinic is those non-compete clauses. Because those can really come back to by EO. Going back to the pros, I would say another pro would probably be just marketing and advertising. They’re marketing and advertising on your behalf. They’re bringing in tons of clients and their pets, so there’s really no worry that you’re going to have that client base there. It’s easy to build up because you have them supporting you in this sort of setting. If you have any more questions or you’d like to discuss these sorts of situations, you can schedule a consultation with us.
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