Have you all the needed policies in place? - Veterinary Practice
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Have you all the needed policies in place?

Gareth Cross reports on his manly way of coping with a cold but also of ‘a special treat’ in attending a seminar on matters relating to health and safety as well as employment law

LIKE many of you reading this I
am currently struggling through a
cold. Or as critics may say, a dose of
man flu.

I am dealing with it in the usual
way vets do which is trying to kill any
systemic viral load with alcohol and
ignoring it. I think man flu has several
stages of progression that we pass
through, like grief. The first being
denial. That first sneeze, slight sore
throat: “We’re not ill.” More persistent
cough: “Still not ill,” despite the
constant throughput of clients
sneezing and coughing at you across
the consult
table you can’t
believe you
really are
going down

My least
favourite virus encounter was when a rep was
leaving and sneezed a good snotty
spray into his hands, apologised and
then held out his hand to shake before
leaving. Politeness got the better of me
and I shook hands, then ran to the
prep room to douse my hands in

Denial also involves doing the
things I normally do, such as running,
which briefly proves to myself that I
am fully well as the cascade of
endorphins, adrenaline, cortisol, etc.,
which form the “runner’s high”
obliviates any feeling of malaise.

Complete submission

I tried this one lunchtime this week,
but then by the end of evening surgery
my head felt like a hangover described
in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “like
having your brains smashed out by a
slice of lemon wrapped around a large
gold brick.”

After denial of the cold comes
complete submission which involves
the croaky voice, sneezing, half-closed
eyes and ancillary symptoms of your
choice, which in my dad’s case includes
a pronounced limp.

Quite what part of a cold causes a
limp we are yet to ascertain, but in a
curious example of epigenetic
inheritance I frequently notice myself
limping round the practice when I have
a cold.

The hallmark of a veterinary cold,
though, is persistently turning up to
work. One winter, a cold and flu
remedy TV advert featured a vet with a
cold in a busy waiting room calling in
the next patient and giving the camera
a cheeky “If it wasn’t for xyz cold
remedy I’d be stuffed” look.

The other consistent feature of
being ill as a vet is the complete indifference of the clients. Even if they
start a consult with a comment like,
“Ooh you don’t sound very well, dear,”
this is immediately followed by an
unspoken “but I’m paying for the next
10 minutes so I am getting every
penny’s worth out of you” and proceed
to make you talk more than usual.

This week I was harangued by
some owners about their cat’s cough
which was so mild and infrequent most
of the discussion centred on a
domestic dispute between husband and
wife which I had to referee, between
bouts of my own coughing.

One of our nurses soldiered on all
this week with a sore throat and lost
voice and was shown no mercy by
clients, although I did suggest that she
rested it fully whilst we worked

As well as being ill, a special treat
this week was attending a two-hour
health and safety and employment law
seminar. It was highly informative and
I thought I’d pass on a few salient
points with one super tip on combating
persistent absenteeism.

One interesting concept was the
joining up of employees’ contracts,
practice policies, staff handbook, terms
and conditions of employment, etc.
Contracts should be simple and refer
to the staff handbook (which I am sure
we all have) and company policies.

The handbook and policies can be
reasonably changed without having to
constantly change contracts. For
example, use of company cars, holidays
and bank holidays can be in detail in
the handbook, and in the contract refer
to the handbook.

Policies on behaviour

Policies include all the usual things
such as equal opportunities, equipment
use, dress code, code of conduct, etc.
Also we must all have social media
policies in place that cover in work and
out of work use. Many employers also
have policies on behaviour when in
company uniform, for example on
drinking or language, that include
working and non working time.

I was pleased to hear that you are
entitled as an employer to ask
employees about their health, although
they are not obliged to tell you
anything. An obvious example is if you
suspect someone is pregnant, but it
also has important implications if you think that someone is not able to work
capably or safely due to illness or

For all the criticisms of the RCVS
PSS, at least if you get through the
paperwork you have probably done
enough to keep yourself legal and your
staff informed of their responsibilities.

Absenteeism is the number one
reason employers call employment law
helplines. Be it the longer term player
of the system or the staff member
with a recurring dose of Monday-

Many one-day or two-day
absenteeisms go unrecorded and in
larger organisations may go largely
unnoticed by the employer. However,
they won’t go unnoticed by
their colleagues and as we
all know if you have one
recurringly absent
employee it has a very
detrimental effect on the
morale of the remaining

A good way to
combat both aspects of
this is the return to work
interview. This must be
stated as company policy
and applied to all staff no
matter how genuine or
suspect their sick leave. This, when
implemented, has been shown in nearly
all cases to both reduce absenteeism
and improve morale of the other staff
as it shows that you have noticed it is
going on and are taking it seriously.

The interview requires employees to
explain their absence and assess their
fitness to work.

Well, I’ve entertained you with tales
of man flu and employment law – it
just doesn’t get more exciting than that.
You will be reading this in January with
the post-Christmas blues and empty
bank accounts.

To cheer you up, I only wish I
could have recorded the phone call I
took half way through when my
mother-in-law called about her cat. The
cat had a cat claw in its head and a
brewing abscess, and she had been on
the vino-cheapo by the sound of it. I
could hear her, her friend and the cat
carrying out some tele-medicine as per my instructions. I don’t
think it ended well.

Please take all legal
advice above with a
pinch of salt as I am
not qualified to advise,
but merely passing on
what I heard. I am also
fighting a cold (did I
mention that?) using
doses of grape-derived
medicinal ethanol which
may have impaired my
already limited judgement on such matters.
Happy New Year to you all and any comments, ideas or general input over
the forthcoming year to this column as
always is appreciated on

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