Protecting teens and volunteers at your practice

Protecting teens and volunteers at your practice

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May 01, 2007


Philip Seibert
The veterinary profession has long enjoyed a surplus of young people aspiring to careers with animals and looking for practical, hands-on experience. However, there are restrictions on the hours a minor may work and the types of jobs they may perform.

Minor employees

The Fair Labor Standards Act restricts work hours for youths ages 14 and 15. They may only work outside school hours up to:

  • 3 hours on a school day
  • 8 hours on a nonschool day
  • 18 hours in a school week
  • 40 hours in a nonschool week.

In general, teens 16 to 18 can work any hours in accordance with minimum wage and overtime rules. Youths 13 and under may not be employed at all. Always check with your state labor department to ensure that your state doesn't further restrict these hours.

In addition, federal law restricts minors from involvement in hazardous jobs. In a veterinary practice these may include:

  • Exposure to radiography equipment
  • Handling severely toxic chemicals
  • Driving vehicles on company business
  • Handling aggressive, wild, or feral animals.

Volunteers

From a liability standpoint, the practice must provide volunteers with the same on-the-job protection as paid employees. Although a volunteer would not be covered under the practice's workers' compensation insurance, if injured on practice property, he or she would probably be eligible for compensation from the general liability insurance policy. And the hourly restrictions mentioned earlier also apply to volunteers who are minors.

It's a good idea to work with established organizations such as the Red Cross when using volunteers. These volunteers have often completed an orientation process, so a certain amount of liability is shared with the organization. What's more, the volunteer gets verifiable credit for his or her work if it's ever needed for civic awards or academic achievement.

Don't let all these laws scare you off. Young people and volunteers can make meaningful contributions to your practice—and enjoy the experience. Just make sure you follow the rules.

Philip Seibert, CVT, is an author, speaker, and consultant with Veterinary Practice Consultants in Calhoun, Tenn. Send questions or comments to

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