A number of large businesses have begun to allow their employees “peternity” leave, in order to look after sick pets or take them to the vets.
London delivery company The Courier Service introduced a "peternity" policy last July that lets workers claim two days' paid annual leave.
Denise Fresco, human resources manager, said: "It is awarded in the same way people might need time off for a baby or to look after a child."
Meanwhile, the Bank of Scotland allow workers to take time off work for sick pets, so long as they organise cover.
Royal Mail has also said that it will consider allowing "compassionate leave" if a pet dies. However, having such a policy in place could prove dangerous. As Workplace Law previously reported, in September 2006, Royal Mail had to pay employee David Portman an undisclosed amount for firing him after he took a week off work following the death of his dog.
The week's absence, the last in a series of absences, happened in 2004 and Portman was dismissed from his job as a result. Portman’s lawyer argued that many of the previous absences were a result of workplace injuries and that Royal Mail's own procedures say that time off following bereavement is not counted against an employee's sickness record.
The tribunal ruled Portman had been off for legitimate reasons and that Royal Mail had failed to understand and apply its own policy. It also found that the company had been too inflexible in its interpretation of events.
Some companies paternity policies not only allow staff time off but also to bring their pets into the workplace, like staff at the London office of internet firm Google. The firm decided to allow pets at work after realising staff were reluctant to leave them at home or pay for expensive dog walkers.
Google’s ‘Dog Policy’ can be found on its website and includes such clauses as: “If a pet has more than one indoor "accident" they will be asked to go home”.
In a survey by insurers Petplan, 35% of people admitted to taking time off work to either settle new pets into the home or care for sick pets. Half of those owned up to taking a whole week off - potentially costing businesses up to £19m each year.
A separate survey by Direct Line found that pet owners collectively take eight million ‘sick’ days a year to get over the death of their animals. The group estimates that grieving owners cost UK businesses around £127m a year in sick pay during the time they take off when their pet dies.
Seventy-nine per cent 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 lying, usually pretending to be ill.