Bringing a new pet into your home is a big adjustment. It's an adjustment for everyone, in fact.
Obviously, it's an adjustment for the new pet coming into a completely unfamiliar setting with completely unfamiliar people and possibly unfamiliar animals. It's an adjustment for the people who suddenly have a new family member to care for. And it's an adjustment for any animals already in the home who suddenly find their space invaded by a new creature.
But some companies in the United Kingdom are recognizing that making such a big adjustment while still needing to be at work all day is a very difficult thing to do and are starting to grant what's being referred to as "pawternity leave."
British tabloid The Daily Mirror reports that almost one in 20 new pet owners in the UK has been offered some sort of pawternity leave. The time off offered runs the gamut from a few hours to several weeks of paid time off, depending on the pet and the company offering the benefit.
From the Daily Mirror Online:
"Greg Buchanan, who owns Manchester-based IT company BitSol Solutions, allows his employees three weeks’ paid leave when a new four-legged friend arrives.
He got the idea after his partner Steph took an incredible nine months off work to settle the couple’s own dogs—longer than many new mums take in maternity leave.
Greg said: 'The first few weeks of a dog moving to a new home is a really important time. I don’t have kids myself, but I do have dogs and I understand how much they mean to people. I find being flexible with my staff when it comes to their animals makes them loyal and hardworking. Pets are like babies nowadays, so why shouldn’t staff have some time off when they arrive?'"
While Buchanan's partner took nine months off to settle in her dogs, BitSol isn't quite so generous in its policy. According to USA Today, the company allows up to a week of paid time off for a new pet and one employee has taken four days.
This is a concept that needs to make its way to the U.S. Pawternity leave should be a widespread practice here as it seems to be becoming in the UK.
People are taking pet ownership far more seriously now than they ever have before. More and more people are recognizing that bringing a new pet into a home is stressful and that the only way to make the transition as easy as possible for all involved is to spend time with the new pet, making sure it's adjusting to its new environment. Pets can't tell us in words how they feel, so all we can do to make sure they're doing ok is watch.
This is going to make some people mad, but I'm going to say it and I truly believe it: In many ways, bringing a new pet into a home is as much of an adjustment as bringing a new baby into a home. The new pet is much like a baby—it can't express how it feels the way everyone else does and it's in a place where it's not comfortable among creatures it's never seen before. There are tons of new sights and sounds to learn.
And the people are, in essence, the parents. They don't know how well the new pet will sleep, if it will like the food you give it, if it's healthy, how often it needs to go to the bathroom. And like a baby, the pet can't answer any of those questions.
So all you can do is watch. But you can't watch if you're not there.
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 guarantees people up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave with continuation of group health insurance per year for qualifying family and health reasons, including caring for a newborn child under a year of age or the adoption of a child or the placement of a child in foster care within one year of placement or adoption (and that 12 weeks does not reduce the amount of vacation/sick/personal time you've earned).
I'm not advocating giving new pet owners that amount of time. Sure, 12 weeks would be nice, but it's unnecessary. And in fact, if you hope to get your pet used to your work schedule, being able to spend all day with it for 12 weeks might actually be a detriment.
That said, it's reasonable to ask for (and even expect) a couple weeks of time off after you bring a new pet into your home to make sure it's a good fit and adjusting well.
In the USA Today article I mentioned before, Greg Buchanan says that not only is pawternity leave good for pets and their people, it may be good for the company. According to USA Today:
"As the owner of a tech company, Buchanan says pawternity is actually good for the bottom line.
'If you do give time off for pawternity leave, you are limiting the number of people available to you. However, I believe the morale of staff definitely improves and they actually want to work harder for you.'"
But it will, in fact, do more than simply make current pet-owning employees happier. Companies that allow pawternity leave will, in fact, increase their pool of potential future hires. Think about this: A company that does not allow pawternity leave is essentially saying they don't want people who take pet ownership seriously. And those workers will go to work elsewhere. You limit your pool of potential hires by essentially saying you have to choose between your pet and your job.
Now more than ever, I think that when faced with that choice, people are more likely to choose their pet(s) over the job. More and more companies are allowing workers to bring their pets or offering onsite pet care. And if not that, more and more companies are allowing their employees to have flexible schedules to care for their pets.
As a result, people don't NEED to pick the non-pet-friendly employers anymore.
The long and the short of all this is that labor laws need to catch up with changing attitudes toward pets. It's only right.
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