Pet sick leave: Should “pawrents” get time off?

Pet sick leave

Most companies provide leave entitlements such as sick leave, designed exclusively for the employee's health issues, and compassionate leave, meant for grieving the loss of a human family member.

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Should Kenyan companies start thinking of offering pet owners leave when their dogs, cats, or hamsters fall sick? Like a day or two to take a pet for vaccines, therapy, or surgery.

An increasing number of companies now have Gen Zs and millennials making up a large population of their workforce, and these generations love and live with pets as they would with their children. The “purrents” or “pawrents”, share everything with the pets, from plates to beds.

If a cat vomits, albeit mildly, a “pawrent” would call the vet frantically at night, rush the dog to an emergency room, and then call the boss the next morning and say, “Sir, I can’t come in today. Ray barely slept at night. He was so sick.” Ray is not a toddler. Ray is a kitten.

A few days ago, I called a 27-year-old friend. He told me he was at home. He has just gotten a new job, so I wondered why he was not at work. It was a Tuesday.

He told me, “Ray is sick.” “When did he fall sick?” I asked, assuming that he was talking about his son, perhaps called Ray. But he was talking about Ray the cat, not Ray the human.

He had taken two days off to take care of his four-month-old sick kitten.

Pet ownership in Kenya is rising, as are the new demands from employees who are “pawrents”.

Whether a sick pet is considered a valid excuse to miss work can vary depending on the organisation.

I asked a group of HR professionals, most working in top corporations, if pet owners require days off to take care of their pets.

One HR professional cited the case of a Gen Z employee whose dog died, and she took a week off. Another said his company has that factored in. They give leaves for pet death or when the pet gives birth.

Richard Magoma, an HR expert, says most companies would not hesitate to give employees time off to mourn a family member, but they would frown upon a pet request.

“Although it isn’t something that is far from happening, if you look at the way they [Gen Zs] resign, then they would have a problem if it came to their pets being sick,” he says. “Would they work if their pet is sick? I doubt.”

Mr Magoma added that he would approve the time off. “I would approve leave for a sick dog so long as I see a vet’s documentation,” he says.

Puppy leave, menstrual leave, mental health leave, and drink-all-you-can retreats are some of the perks that younger employees desire to stay with an employer.

However, other experts argue that even though people nowadays see pets as children, and the thought of them working normally in an office while the dog or cat is sick at home would damage them, Kenyan employers are not yet at a place where they place the same value on pets and humans.

Professor Katua Ngui, who teaches Leadership and Human Resources at the United States International University-Africa in Nairobi, says as much as workplaces have younger employees with peculiarities, workers must be satisfied with HR laws that target them as humans first before they move to animals.

“Pet sick days are progressive, but they are not a priority. Employers have other pressing needs that involve humans, such as extension of maternity or paternity leave,” he said.

“If we start extending compassionate leave to dogs and cats, a farmer who has a cow will also ask to be given time off when his cow gets sick or dies," Prof Katua added.

However, Mary Maonga, a human resource associate, argued that in the modern workplace, the line between professional and personal life is increasingly blurred, as more employees consider their pets as integral members of their families.

“For many employees, pets offer companionship and emotional support that are as crucial as any human relationship. The bond shared with a pet can deeply influence an employee’s mental health and, by extension, their productivity at work. Recognising this, some progressive companies are reevaluating their leave policies to include provisions for pet-related contingencies,” she told the BDLife.

Typically, most companies provide leave entitlements such as sick leave, designed exclusively for the employee's health issues, and compassionate leave, meant for grieving the loss of a human family member.

“This gap often leaves pet-owning employees in a difficult position, having to either sacrifice their annual leave or report to work while emotionally distressed,” said Ms Maonga.

In Kenyan corporates, the discussion has already started as HR practitioners seek ways to get the best out of younger employees, especially expatriates, and ensure they have a healthy work-life balance.

“Some firms are pioneering the integration of pet-related leave into their official policies. These companies offer a specific number of days for pet compassionate leave, recognising the sorrow that accompanies a pet’s illness or death, akin to that of a family member.

Some organisations are even offering 'pet sick leave' to care for ill pets, acknowledging that a pet's health emergency can be as disruptive as a personal health issue,” she added.

Before requesting time off to attend to your sick cat, ask yourself, “does my company’s compassionate leave cover pets?”

On whether a pet owner who has decided to apply for compassionate leave has to disclose the reason for absence, Prof Katua said the law is clear “an employee must disclose why they want leave. The employer can decide to go beyond what the compassionate leave law provides, but for now, pets are not registered as part of the family,” he said.

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