Pawpular Perks: Pet-Friendly Policies at Work.

Compassionate leave is time off from work which employers may permit employees to take where a relative, or sometimes a close friend, is ill or has died. There is no statutory right of compassionate leave in itself, but there is a statutory entitlement to take time off for ‘dependants’ to deal with issues which relate to a spouse, partner, child, parent or an individual that the employee cares for. Some employers may also have a Compassionate Leave Policy, which extends rights to take leave following the death of a loved one who does not classify as a ‘dependent’.

But what happens when the loved one is a pet? Emma McNulty from Glasgow recently faced this situation and was dismissed after she did not attend work when her dog died. Thereafter she launched a petition for official bereavement leave from work following the death of a pet. Pets do not count as dependants under the legislation for time off for dependants and whether an employee can take compassionate leave will be at the employer’s discretion.  

In 2016, GfK found that 54% of people surveyed in the UK are cat or dog owners. Some US companies offer paid time off for pet bereavement, including confectionary manufacturer Mars Inc, who offer one day plus flexible hours. In 2017, the Italian Courts held that a public-sector employee who took two days off to take her seriously ill dog to the vet was entitled to paid leave under an allowance for absences related to “serious or family personal reasons”, which had initially been refused by her employer.

Back in the UK, although no statutory right to pet-related leave currently exists, companies such as BrewDog have launched their own pet-friendly policies such as ‘paw-ternity’ leave where time off or flexible working is available to settle in new pets at home. BrewDog offer staff one week’s paid leave to those who adopt a puppy or rescue dog.

Flexible office-space provider WeWork advocates for dog friendly offices, whose mission is all about community. Many of their workspaces declare: “Pups are welcome here”. WeWork reports benefits such as reduced stress and positive health aspects (such as lunchtime dog walks), cultivating employee relationships, improved morale, better work/life balance and a more open culture.

Nestlé’s UK HQ in Gatwick also encourages dogs in the workplace with their PAW (Pets at Work) Programme. The “pawthorisation” process includes a questionnaire about the dog’s habits, behavioural evaluations, and a three-month probation period before granting their “passpawt”. Nestlé echoes WeWork’s reported benefits that pets bring to the workplace, with research showing that the top benefit was happier and healthier staff. Before implementing pet-friendly policies, employers will want to consider whether such policies might be open to abuse by staff, as well as the health and safety responsibilities including conducting risk assessments, considering any pet allergies amongst staff and disclosing to their insurer. Perhaps try a test-run on ‘Bring Your Dog to Work Day’, which was established in the UK in 2014 in support of animal related charities and continues annually on 24 June.

The contents of this article are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this article. © Mundays LLP

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