Several years ago, I blogged about Emeryville, California’s paid sick leave ordinance, which is the only sick leave law that allows employees to take leave specifically to care for a sick service animal. As I noted then, “[t]he concept makes sense – employees can take sick leave because they (or their family member) is temporarily incapacitated because of the illness of the [service animal]. (Not because the dog is a family member!).” I also wondered whether other jurisdictions would adopt similar provisions. But now, I’m not sure they have to.
The shift in my thinking comes out of the Frequently Asked Questions on Arizona’s Earned Sick Time Law, which one of my partners was recently perusing. Knowing my adoration for my dog, and my nerdy interest in sick leave laws, she brought one Q&A to my attention:
Is a service animal a “family member” under the Act?
Absent additional legislative or judicial guidance, the Industrial Commission will not enforce against an employer that does not consider a service animal a “family member” within the meaning of the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act. However, the loss or incapacitation of a service animal may give rise to a qualifying condition for the use of earned paid sick time (such as a mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition of the employee or the employee’s family member).
This aligns with my previous observation quoted above. (How insightful of me!!) Although the animal itself is not a “family member” for purposes of sick leave laws generally (however pet parents like myself may feel otherwise), the service animal’s illness may negatively impact the employee or the employee’s human family member’s ability to care for themselves to such an extent that the employee may be able to take sick leave to deal with that human impact. And, of course, the employee could also care for the sick animal at the same time!
To be clear – we are talking about service animals – highly trained dogs that enable disabled individuals to perform essential functions of daily living. Not comfort animals or emotional support animals. Or pets. Still no sick leave for them, even if they are a family member.
(And here’s another picture of my dog. No, it’s not photoshopped. The iPhone is a marvelous thing…)