On a related note to my previous post on pet bereavement leave, my daughter told me about another leave available to those dog-crazy folks in the U.K – “paw-ternity leave.” (Which is very different than “peternity” leave – another name for pet bereavement leave!) Essentially, this type of leave is a maternity/paternity leave for pets.
As first reported by the Mirror, a research study by pet insurance provider Petplan found that almost 1 in 20 new pet owners in the U.K. are offered “paw-ternity” leave by their employers. This leave can be used to settle in and care for a new pet, vet appointments, training, etc. It ranges from a few hours to a few weeks, and is provided in addition to the worker’s usual vacation leave allotment. The article specifically identifies two different companies that formally provide this type of leave – pet food manufacturer Mars Petcare and IT company Bitsol Solutions.
Mars, a pet-friendly and pet-centric workplace, gives employees 10 hours of paid leave when they get a new pet. The HR director, Kate Menzies, told the Mirror that “Dogs and cats are at the heart of our business and our policy is designed to embrace a culture that is passionate about pets.” She said that that the company, which encourages employees to bring their pets to work, provides the leave because “[w]e know how important it is to take an animal into your home, and we want to enable and ease responsible pet ownership for our employees.”
Bitsol Solutions offers three weeks of paid leave for a new pet! Owner Greg Buchanan was inspired to implement this policy when his partner took a full nine months off from work to care for their new dogs (yes, longer than most human maternity leaves!). He noted that “Pets are like babies nowadays” and that being flexible with his employees when it comes to their animals “makes them loyal and hardworking.”
As I mentioned in my pet bereavement leave post and as suggested by Mr. Buchanan, for many people, pets are a member of the family. We pet owners often use the vocabulary of the parent-child relationship with regard to our pets. We didn’t simply “get” a dog – we “adopted” him. My dog goes to doggie daycare. I admit that I frequently mix up my son’s name with our dog’s name (there are a lot of similarities in behavior between a crazy teenager and a dog).
When our puppy joined our family (yes, that’s his puppy picture), I took what I called my “puppy maternity leave” for a week or so, during which I worked mostly from home (so it wasn’t really leave). But I was lucky that I could perform my job responsibilities remotely, and that my colleagues tolerated my doing so (maybe with a little eye-rolling behind my back?).
But most workers cannot telecommute for their jobs, and may not have employers or colleagues who are as understanding as mine. Does this mean that paw-ternity leave is a good idea in most workplaces in the U.S.? As with pet bereavement leave, I think it depends on the actual workplace – for example, such a policy may be appropriate in pet-centric companies and other businesses whose leadership and workforce share support for the pet relationship. In others, it may not be so well-tolerated by co-workers who don’t understand the depth of the pet relationship and who feel put-upon for having to cover for their pet-loving colleagues on leave.
As I suggested with regard to pet bereavement leave, I believe that, in general, most workers’ new pet needs can be covered with already existing leave policies – such as vacation or paid time off that can be used for any personal reason. Employers who wish to be supportive of their employees’ individual needs may also provide unpaid leave or temporary telecommuting (if possible and appropriate) for such reasons, which could include settling in a new pet. As Mr. Buchanan recognized, showing this type of consideration towards employees could help engender loyalty.
And as Charles Schultz said, “Happiness is a warm puppy.”