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Ask Our Specialist – Pet Care Leave

Published May 07, 2018 (last updated November 19, 2020) Author: Employsure

An employee has a family pet who requires surgery and at home monitoring. Do they have to take unpaid leave, or can their sick leave be applied?

Our Specialist Says:

Pets can be a wonderful addition to the family and, in fact, many people would argue they love their pets as they would their own child. However, the responsibilities of owning a pet can be unpredictable, stressful and sometimes impact employee’s attendance at short notice. Leave entitlements and how these are adopted into your business’ policies, can be inconvenient during times of pet-related pressures, however there are a number of options available to employers.

Under the Holidays Act 2003, sick leave and compassionate or bereavement leave allow employees the right to take leave in various circumstances where they may be required to care or provide support to immediate family members or members of a household. Unfortunately for pet owners, the definition of immediate family member or a member of the household does not include pets.

Some workplaces can choose to include pet leave policies as an additional perk. This benefit tends to be found in pet care industries where it’s common for employees to have a pet. When deciding whether to implement pet friendly policies, employers should consider whether limiting leave benefits to pet-related matters is fair considering employees without pets would miss out on this additional leave option. Also, by taking on pet-friendly policies, employers need to consider how a pet is defined, as the emotional attachment to different animals becomes very individual-based. You might find it difficult to be as sympathetic to an employee requesting leave for the death of their beloved goldfish.

If your business does not have leave perks for when an employee requires time off work, for example to take their ill or injured pet to the vet or attend to other emergencies, you can agree to allow your employees access their annual leave. Or, if they do not have enough annual leave, you can grant them unpaid leave. Alternatively, where mutually agreed, you can also allow for temporary adjustments to hours of work. This can be done by varying contracted hours of work or having employee’s work make-up hours.

If you’re not sure what the best approach is for an employee who needs time off to care for their pet, contact Employsure for advice on policies and leave on 0800 568 012.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,000 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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