It’s a dog’s life – introducing workplace paw-ternity leave

Sheila Fahy

It’s funny how attitudes change over time. The majority of employers are now happy to support pregnant women and those on maternity leave, as well as agreeing that the statutory rights underpinning these are reasonable and easy to implement. The same statement could not have been said with any confidence two or three decades ago. Now fathers are taking paternity leave, same-sex partners have equal rights, adoption is treated the same as pregnancy, surrogacy arrangements are recognised, and parental leave can be shared by both parents. I wonder where the next decade will take us?

How about paw-ternity leave? Don’t laugh. Anyone who has ever tried to settle a new puppy or a rescue dog into their home will tell you how difficult, stressful and labour-intensive it is. The puppy cries for nights on end for its mother, and it takes a very strong person indeed not to scoop it up from the crate and take it into the comfort of your arms or bed. Everything that is done for a child in the first two years (weaning, housetraining, learning and development, tricks) is concentrated into the first six months of the puppy’s life. Most employees use their holiday entitlement to welcome the new arrival, and are happy to do so. But is it time for a change? Is it time for employers to offer a short period of paid paw-ternity leave?

I can hear the protests already. Are you equating a dog with a child? Where will it all lead (get it!) to: caternity leave for felines, hamily leave for hamsters, and furternity leave for fluffy rabbits? I simply say let’s start with dogs and peternity leave might follow.

The idea is not as far-fetched as you might think. Melton Borough Council has launched the Paw-some scheme to make Melton Mowbray and its businesses the UK’s number-one pet-friendly town. Companies have already responded, with one offering ten hours of peternity leave. The beer company Brewdog has always allowed its employees to bring their dog to work, and now they have gone one step further and introduced one week of paid Puppy Parental Leave.

There is never going to be a legal right to pet leave in the same way as there is for family leave. Not even in three decades. But employers wanting to attract and retain talent from a diverse pool may want to think about offering enhanced benefits to a wider population than just parents.

Comments published on Employment Talk do not necessarily reflect the views of Allen & Overy.

Read comments below or add a comment
  1. Steven Rix says:

    Fantastic post, Sheila, always keeping it real, embracing change, and injecting the right amount of humour into the equation.

    I’m sure your sentiments are shared by many. Certain statutory rights, or rather when they become acquired, are still quite difficult to fathom, so I agree a level legal playing field for pet leave is likely cloud cuckoo land. But imagine the level of workforce engagement if employers thought out of the box in this space – it wasn’t until I watched last night’s episode of Animal Rescue Live that I appreciated the transformational role pets can play in the lives of the bereaved, for example.

    The pet-friendly policies you highlighted set great examples for enlightened employers and, combined with agile working practices, can make a huge difference. Like so many things in the workplace, it’s not necessarily that employers don’t want to, they sometimes don’t know how or appreciate the importance of the issue, and just need a little inspiration from your good selves.

    I hope to see the day when pet insurance or pet care vouchers are available as an optional work benefit. Maybe they already are somewhere!

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