The BVNA Industrial Relations Helpline regularly receives calls from veterinary nurses saying they have been told that the practice is changing their hours of work to include weekend working and out-of-hours call outs. They enquire whether the practice can do this.

The answer is ‘Yes, they can – provided that they have carried out meaningful consultation with all the veterinary nurses affected, explaining the business reasons for the changes. This process involves meeting and discussing the proposed changes on a one-to-one basis individually.

The individual consultation meetings are your opportunity to voice your reservations regarding the proposed changes and for the practice to address your concerns. This consultation should be held over a period of time up to a maximum of 12 weeks. The changes cannot be implemented until after this period of time.

If you have reasons for not being able to carry out weekend or on-call duties, owing to childcare commitments you may be able to request flexible working.

More than one consultation meeting with the practice may be necessary before an agreement is reached. However, the practice cannot just make changes ‘unilaterally’; because this period of negotiation and consultation with you is vitally important if it is to work within employment legislation guidelines.

It is important to remember that an employer is entitled to make changes to the terms and conditions of your employment, but they should follow the consultation procedure outlined above.

On call at place of work

In a situation where you live in at the practice or hospital and are waiting for work, you are on call and should be paid for the hours you are working. On-call duty performed by a worker where they have to be physically present on the employers premises is classed as ‘working time’, regardless of the work actually done.

On call at home with disrupted domestic life

If you are on call at home, and might have to answer the telephone or drive to the practice, the responsibility to the employer is increased. You may be restricted in what you can do – for example, you might have to remain in the house to answer the telephone, or avoid consuming alcohol because you might need to drive to the practice.

Practices are often split on whether they pay a nominal sum – £20 – £30 per day/night, for instance – when this type of on-call commitment is required.

When on call is part of the rota

When on call is part of the rota, student and non-qualified nurses need to be mindful of the duties they can/should perform. (Full details can be found in the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 [Schedule 3 Amendment] Order 2002).

There are instances where student VNs are on call and attend practices alone.- This will be acceptable if the student nurse is attending a practice to fill water bowls, walk animals, change bedding and so on; but it will be unacceptable if it is to administer medical treatment or to carry out minor surgery without the direct supervision of a veterinary surgeon who is on the premises.

Health and safety

The employer has a duty of care to all staff. This includes time spent on call at the premises. Our advice is for a risk assessment to be carried out to review lighting, car parking, the area in which the practice is situated, the risk of access to medical supplies, equipment, patients and cash, for example.

Telephone links, alarmed premises, personal alarms and other security measures should all be considered for the protection of staff. 

For further support with this or any other HR issue BVNA members can call the BVNA IRS Helpline on 01822 870270


Nicky Ackerley BA(Hons)

Nicky Ackerley HR Support is owned by Nicky Ackerley who has a BA [Hons) Business Studies Degree, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and who has been a practising HR manager for over 20 years. HR Support Consultancy has provided the BVNA's Industrial Relations Service since it began in 2002.

• VOL 27 • June 2012 • Veterinary Nursing Journal