I came across this article and found it very thought-provoking. Please weigh in with your opinions on the topic. —Sid

By NICK BARNETT

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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