Rook with scarfI have previously blogged about the fact that the Family and Medical Leave Act and state counterparts don’t allow employees to take time off to care for an ill or dying pet (see my Pet Bereavement Leave? post here). Recently, however, I heard about a sick leave ordinance – in Emeryville, California – that allows employees to take time off to care for certain animals! So in addition to taking sick leave because of the illness or injury of the employee or the employee’s family member, the employee may also take this leave “to aid or care for a guide dog, signal dog, or service dog”!!! And the dog doesn’t even have to belong to the employee – it can be the family member’s dog!

Although I was initially taken aback by the concept of using sick leave for an animal, upon further reflection, it does make some sense in this context. I appreciate the fact that the Emeryville law limits the use of such leave to a “guide dog, signal dog, or service dog” and specifies that these terms are subject to the definitions set forth in the California Code. Under the Code, “guide dog” means a guide dog that was trained by a specially licensed trainer.  “Signal dog” means a dog trained to alert a hearing-impaired individual to intruders or sounds. And “service dog” means a dog who has been specifically trained to the disabled person’s individual requirements. So we are not talking about the increasingly proliferating (and (perhaps too!) easily certified) “comfort animal” or “emotional support animal” – but highly trained dogs that enable disabled individuals to perform essential functions of daily living.

In this situation, if the dog is sick, then the individual is limited in his/her abilities to perform essential functions of daily life. (Although I will note that the law is inartfully drafted to say that the sick leave can be used to “aid or care for” the dog – so, does that mean the dog doesn’t have to be sick? Is this normal care – like walking the dog? Well visits to the vet? Feeding the dog? I’m assuming that the intent of the law, though, is that the dog has to be sick….) The concept makes sense – employees can take sick leave because they (or their family member) is temporarily incapacitated because of the illness of the dog. (Not because the dog is a family member!)

It will be interesting to see if this idea finds any traction as paid sick leave bills and laws pick up steam throughout the nation. And it gives new meaning to the phrase, “sick as a dog.”

P.S. Yes, that’s my dog. Neither service dog nor emotional support animal – just my adorable pet.