Setting Yourself Up for Relief Work

Tosha K. Starke, DVM, All Four Paws Veterinary Relief, Manassas, Virginia

Kathy Wainwright, DVM, Capital Area Veterinary Services, Arlington, Virginia

Lance M. Roasa, DVM, MS, JD, The Roasa Law Group, Raymond, Nebraska

Michelle D. Krasicki-Aune, MBA, BS, CVT, Vet Teams, Coon Rapids, Minnesota

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Setting Yourself Up for Relief Work

Relief services are a thriving segment of the veterinary profession. Hiring a relief veterinarian allows associates and practice owners to be away from the practice knowing their patients are cared for and clients have access to needed services. Working relief comes with benefits and challenges that are different from standard clinical practice, and opportunities exist for both veterinarians and veterinary nurses. We explore several of the many facets of veterinary relief work.

Legal Considerations for Relief Work

Lance M. Roasa, DVM, MS, JD, The Roasa Law Group, Drip Learning Technologies, Omaha, Nebraska

Consider these legal issues before starting relief work.

  • Determine if the position is classified as an employee or independent contractor (IC). Relief work does not automatically imply an IC relationship. Misclassifying the relationship is a common mistake and can be costly for both the practice and relief veterinarian. There are IC classification tax incentives for the practice and the relief veterinarian (see Incentives to Classify Independent Contractor Positions), but misclassifying the relationship can result in back taxes and costly fines.1 The IRS has developed complex tests (ie, behavioral control, financial control, type of relationship) to help classify personnel relationships.2 
    • The behavioral control test looks at who can instruct, train, direct, and control the person performing the work. The less control the practice has over the work, the more it appears to be contracting with outside businesses.
    • The financial control test examines who has the investment and business at stake. Taking on financial risk makes a worker look like a separate business, which is the hallmark of an IC.
    • The type of relationship test reviews how both parties perceive their interaction. A formal contract, the absence of benefits, and a short-term relationship all point to an IC.3

IC’s have their own business, independent of the business they serve (eg, a construction contractor hired for a specific project or task). An IC sets prices, manages the schedule, maintains equipment, and is responsible for the financial risk if the business fails.3

Employees are part of the parent business, do not assume financial risks, and rely on the employer for scheduling, equipment, fee collection, and clientele.3 

  • There are many gray areas between an IC and an employee. Check the IRS guidelines to help determine which is appropriate.3
  • The practice’s malpractice insurance will likely not cover IC’s; therefore, an IC must have a policy in his or her own name.
  • Many relief veterinarians and veterinary nurses choose to form an entity (eg, an LLC) for liability and tax purposes; however, this is not always necessary. Consider consulting with an attorney knowledgeable about state guidelines.
  • The practice may not have worker’s compensation covering IC’s injured in the practice. Health and disability insurance purchased by the IC will be necessary to cover these types of injuries.
  • A contract is needed to establish the relationship between the IC and the practice and is part of the IC type of relationship test.3 An attorney can draft a relief contract that details the specifics of the relationship with the practice. The contract should be signed before the IC begins work.
  • Relief workers have a higher potential for malpractice liability because of a decreased relationship with the client.4 Ensure that medical recordkeeping is flawless.
  • Relief employees should check the employment contract and employee handbook. Many contain exclusivity restrictions that prohibit employees from working at other practices and ask for an exemption in writing. Many employee handbooks do not apply to IC’s and thus would not have restrictions. 

Incentives to Classify Independent Contractor Positions

  • Practice owners do not have to pay employment taxes and worker’s compensation.
  • Workers can deduct some expenses (eg, equipment, vehicles, home office, ordinary and necessary expenses to operate the business).


Employee versus independent contractor classification is a very common area of confusion and problems for veterinarians and practices. However, following the rules can allow for trouble-free and financially rewarding relief work.


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