Taking time off for your pet

Last updated 08:00 17/02/2010

Would you take time off work to look after a sick pet? It seems a lot of people do.

Many people stay at home with a sick petHere's a report that says more than a million British workers took time last year off to look after a sick pet. The figures come from an insurance company, and the report doesn't make clear what kind of leave it was - annual, sick, or unpaid.

Or maybe some lucky workers have a contract that allows them pet-sick leave? I haven't heard of this, but who knows?

Whatever kind of leave it is, I suppose, it's a cost to employers. They have to cover for an absent staff member, deal with roster and workplace disruption, and perhaps lose productivity. "Time off for pet care" cost British businesses more than NZ$28 million, the news report said.

Erica, the London woman interviewed for the report, has a cat that went through 20 visits to the vet last year, and spent days in hospital for operations. The cat needed after-care and her owner's presence at home for a time after the surgery, Erica said, and her time off work came in chunks of up to two weeks.

What to make of this?

To start with, I've never taken any paid time off to care for a pet. When a short-notice vet visit was needed, I've done it my own time or slotted it into my jobs.

Mind you, I've been lucky to have had only vet visits, and not worse crises, to find time for. When my cat Pierre got sick and needed multiple veterinarian visits, I was a freelancer and absorbed the care-time in my schedule. (And I suppose you could say that I absorbed the cost: self-employed people have pets, too.)

But what if one of my pets got very ill, needing someone around for days or even weeks? That is, if a pet of mine was at risk of dying or deteriorating if I wasn't around?

Well, I'd readily take annual or unpaid leave, but not sick leave. And not just because my employment contract won't let me: sick leave, to me, is human sick leave, no matter how much a member of the family you consider your dog, cat, rabbit or budgie.

Grieving for a lost petBut I'm wondering if that's a knee-jerk response on my part, and there's more to it. Maybe unions and employers should be thinking more about the impact on workers who are grieving or trying to cope with a seriously sick or injured pet.

A Wikipedia article says: "Pet illness and loss is gradually becoming recognized as similar to other forms of sickness and death in the family. In the UK, a variety of companies provide paid leave for such eventualities, with employment tribunals backing this in some instances where employment terms did not specifically mention pet loss."

It goes on:

"Recent studies by insurers suggest that up to one in four pet owners are sufficiently affected by pet loss or illness to take time off, but that many feel this will be treated lightly and hence simply state they were sick. According to Petplan, 35% of people admitted to taking time off work to either settle new pets into the home or care for sick pets, and half of those admitted taking a whole week off, and according to Direct Line one in four pet owners 'said they have been too upset to go into the workplace when their four legged friend died' and 'many of those who did go into work after the death of their pet said they were unproductive'.  

"The latter survey also noted that pet owners in the UK take 'around 8 million days off' due to grief at the death of a pet, and that 'seventy-nine percent of people responding to the survey admitted they did not think their boss would be sympathetic, and the only way they could get time off work was by ... pretending to be ill'."

I'm sure that "pet worry" and "pet grief" have a real effect on people's working lives - and on their workplaces too. I remember one of my colleagues who arrived at work after just having her cat euthanised; my workmate was a mess all night and was too delicate to be spoken to. And I remember another workmate, a young man, who sat at his desk in shock after telling us his cat had died the previous night after being hit by a car.

And let's not hear a chorus of "harden up": I wouldn't want a world of people so "hard" that the loss of a long-time pet wouldn't affect their day. The reality is that people have close bonds with their pets and pretending or wishing otherwise is to be ignorant of the human heart.

Do you think there should be such a thing as pet-care leave? Should it come under a broader household carer's leave entitlement? I've heard that some workers in Australia have negotiated such coverage in their work contracts, but it's not a legislated right.

Have you taken, or would you take, time off work if your pet fell ill?

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Pictures: Reuters

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Alcy   #1   08:08 am Feb 17 2010

I don't think people should be given any special days off specifically to care for a pet. It should come under the umbrella of other leave available. I have no issues with using annual leave, or one of my dependant's leave days (I have no kids so the only dependants I have are the dogs!) if I really need to. The only time I've actually used one was when my dog died a few years ago.

I'm not the best person to comment though, I have it a bit easy. My best friend and flatmate is a vet nurse who owns half a clinic so I never need to take a day off to take my dogs to the vet.

kazz   #2   08:11 am Feb 17 2010

If my cat Holly had an illness that it was vital for me to be at home then I would probably take annual or unpaid leave. I lost a cat a few years ago and went to work the next day but should have stayed home as a pet death can be just as upsetting as a death of someone you know, you may get through a pet death quicker but it hits you just as hard.

michael   #3   08:52 am Feb 17 2010

An ill pet should be at the vet, but if my dog needed aftercare, of course I would take off as much time as needed. What else is there to do? And people, get pet insurance.

AT   #4   08:58 am Feb 17 2010

No, I don't think there should be pet-care leave. I just don't think that's something that should be a cost to employers. Don't get me wrong, I love my pets dearly, and if something happened to my cat I would possibly take a day off - but I'd do it at my own cost (either leave without pay or annual leave) and only if I knew that I was able to re-shuffle my schedule to suit. I am probably lucky in that I have flexible work conditions though.

Vets visits often have to be within working hours, and I have started a little late and made up the hours for such appointments.

Animal fan   #5   09:32 am Feb 17 2010

I love my animals dearly, and have taken time off work a couple of times to have an animal put down, and to compose myself. On other occasions I have not, but on all occasions I have asked my employer for the time off and explained why, and they have treated me with compassion (perhaps because they know I am a softie when it comes to my animals). In these cases it has either been marked as sick leave, or I have just been asked to make up the time as and where I can.

A few years ago I went to work to find one of my colleagues hiding in a back office, completely beside herself after having had her pet cat of 20 years put down. This woman had lost her partner years before and the cat was their "child". She didn't think anyone would take her seriously for asking for the day off to grieve, so I asked for her, and again she was treated with absolute compassion. I can see why in some jobs it may not be possible, but in my experience an employer or manager - given the opportunity to be kind - will be kind.

N Block   #6   09:33 am Feb 17 2010

I was rather unlucky to have an unfeeling manager when my kitten of 6 months was run over in front me. My parents were kind enough to ring her to tell her i would be unable to go to work the next day due to the shock of the incident. My manager refused to accept this and made a point of telling me that If i did not turn up to work i would be breaching my contract.

Thankfully the store owner understood and granted me the rest of the week of and allowed me to use annual leave to cover my leave.

n   #7   09:36 am Feb 17 2010

I went to work the day after my darling Arty was hit by a car and killed. was the worst idea EVER.

I would take time off but it would have to be annual as I only get 5 sick days and need them for myself. Just lucky we get so much annual leave now.

Trace   #8   09:41 am Feb 17 2010

Yes most definitely. The death of a pet, with whom you have had 10+ years in your life, who has seen you through marriage, divorce, marriage again, kids, death of friends and family, is a soul destroying event. When it has happened I've always needed 2 or so days to stop crying, bury my loved one and clear the decks. I have in the past taken a 'personal day' for a sick animal. And I would do so again.

Ctase   #9   09:42 am Feb 17 2010

I have to laugh at the thought of my employers allowing me to take time off for pet sick leave. Late last year my father fell very ill and it looked as though at one point he would die. I had to make an emergency trip to the other end of the island and had to take that out of my annual leave even though I have about 20 days (at least) of sick/breavement leave accrued!

I wouldn't hesitate to take time off if either of my cats needed me. I'll slot vet visits in during work time if I think they need to see the doctor immediately but yes, I do have to make up the time or take it out of my own leave. I suppose this is fair enough though.

I'd need a full three days of breavement leave if one of my babies died. I don't think I'd be able to function, so I'd be better off staying at home anyway. And I doubt I'd be able to take this as breavement leave, I do think employers should be more sympathetic to those who have pets. In most cases they are not just pets but fully integrated members of the family just like children.

BEK   #10   11:09 am Feb 17 2010

Guilty! I've taken many days of annual leave because of my dogs.. The time he was spewing green foam, as I was about to leave for work, the time he swollowed a bone and didn't 'go' for 3 days.... I usually schedule vet appointments for after-hours, but have had a few trips up to Massey Vet Hospital, so had to take time off to get there to see the specialist. I take annual leave, and (with no other dependants), wish I could use the domestic leave that keeps accruing!

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