Pets in the workplace

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It seems absurd but UK staff take more time off to care for sick pets than for their relatives and friends. A recent survey has shown that dog owners took 2.7 million working days off over the last 2 years to care for their sick animals. Out of an estimated 5.4 million dog owners in the UK, 10% have missed at least 5 days of work, with 5% extending absence up to two weeks. Amusingly –although equally alarming – is the revelation that 55% pay more attention to a sick pet than a family member! The stats all add up to show that we really are a pet loving nation, with many of us prepared to put our animals above our employment. Researching this topic, it was interesting to see that both the Bank of Scotland and Royal Mail have policies that are sympathetic to employee’s caring for sick pets. However, not all companies are so considerate, and most have no formal policy over absence from work due to pet illness.

Like partners, children and relatives, pets also become ill, and are perhaps more dependent on humans than able1 family members. As a pet owner, you have an obligation to care for your pet when it is suffering. Neglect of an animal can lead to prosecution if the neglect is severe. However, when it comes to taking time off work, where does one draw the line?

Absence monitoring is now undertaken by the majority of companies, and it will undoubtedly become more complex if time off for dependents was to include pets. However, because time off for emergencies is nearly always unpaid, an employee could question why time off for pets would be a bigger problem than for a family member. This will depend on the daily responsibilities of each employee: doctors and nurses will struggle to justify the time off more than someone who works behind a desk crunching data. Of course it would certainly be a problem if time off for pets was leading to adverse effects on the business, or absence was extending into weeks, rather than hours or days.

There is no law for or against time off work to care for a sick pet. As such, whether to grant an employee absence is entirely dependent on each individual employer. I would advise companies to put together policy guidelines on the matter, so that all employees are aware of their rights and transparency is achieved. This can include whether time off is permitted, and the extent of the absence allowed. This policy should be integrated into any absence monitoring undertaken by the company, allowing them to monitor the impact on business.


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