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Pawternity leave: pros, cons and 5 questions to ask


If “pawternity” leave isn’t included in your employee benefits, brace yourself.

Pets enrich our lives and are treated as part of the family by many. But like all living things, they require time, attention and care, particularly when we first bring them into our homes.

This reality is driving one of the newest trends in company benefits. Also known as “furternity” leave, pawternity leave acknowledges the growing role pets play in employees’ lives by giving them time off specifically to care for their fur friends, or for bereavement after a beloved pet dies.

While appealing to all ages of pet lovers, millennials in particular look favorably upon companies that offer specific pet-related benefits.

With millennials now representing the largest population in the workforce, as well as the largest population of pet-owners (35 percent), it’s easy to understand why more and more businesses are incorporating pawternity leave into their benefits packages.

That being said, don’t rush out to adopt pawternity perks as your company’s newest benefit just yet. Here are some pros and cons to consider about this uncommon workplace policy, along with five questions you should ask yourself from a business perspective.

What’s included in pawternity benefits?

Because it’s a fairly new concept, you’ll see the terms pawternity and furternity both used to describe this benefit. And because it’s so new, what’s included in pawternity benefits varies widely from company to company.

Some businesses provide between one and three days for pet bereavement only. Others include a certain number of days off or the flexibility of remote work in order to help a new pet acclimate to their new home, e.g., puppy toilet training.

Still other companies give time off to acclimate new pets only if the employee adopts a rescue or shelter animal.

The types of animals covered by such policies fluctuate just as dramatically. Some companies include all types of pets for furternity benefits (even those that don’t technically have fur), while others offer leave for dogs and cats only.

Most businesses that offer pawternity leave include it as part of their total pet-friendly workplace policies, including discounts for pet insurance and doggy day care, or bring-your-pet-to-work days.

Pros of pawternity benefits

The number-one reason cited for adopting pet-related benefits is that it boosts employee morale since it makes workers feel cared for by the company. It shows heart and recognizes the important role pets play in many people’s lives, which translates to better employee engagement and retention.

And that’s good for any business.

Giving someone time to bond with their new puppy or to grieve at home after the passing of their 15-year-old cat can improve productivity and cultivate loyalty. After all, employees appreciate it when management shows concern for their well-being.

Another advantage to the company: It may help you become an employer of choice when recruiting new employees, particularly millennials and Gen Z-ers searching for cutting-edge incentives, since few businesses currently offer pawternity leave.

Pawternity benefits may also reverberate favorably with customers and the general public, and generate some positive publicity for your organization.

Cons of pawternity leave

The most obvious drawback to offering pet-related benefits is that, by definition, they’re not applied equally to all employees. For instance, if only half of your workforce owns pets, that means the other half doesn’t own pets and therefore won’t qualify for the extra time off or flexibility to work from home.

While most people are likely to be sympathetic to any sort of bereavement, fellow employees may resent having to pick up extra work to cover for a coworker’s absences due to pet care issues.

In terms of client relations, customers may be left feeling like they aren’t your first priority if meetings or deadlines are missed due to an employee’s “puppy time.”

If you have international clients and employees, it’s also important to be aware of how they might perceive your company’s pawternity benefits. Some cultures or areas of the world have very different views from U.S. society when it comes to animals. As a result, they may not understand or appreciate the need for pet care as a perk.

Questions to consider

As with any HR policy, you must nail down the details about what is and is not included in your pawternity benefits. Important details to consider include:

1. What constitutes a pet?

Defining this is the first hurdle you’ll need to clear before adopting pawternity leave. While cats and dogs are the most commonly owned pets, what about birds, bunnies, fish, rodents, snakes, lizards and horses? What if an employee argues that their new goldfish needs help adjusting to its new home?

Allowing leave for some types of pets and not others may leave you open to claims of favoritism.

2. Does this benefit cover bereavement only?

Or will you also provide days off or the flexibility to work from home upon adoption of a new pet? Whatever you decide, just make sure it’s clearly spelled out in your policies and employee handbook.

3. How many days will be available for bereavement? What about for new-pet adjustment?

Again, the most important things to remember here are clarity and consistency. Communicate the specific number of days or the terms of any flexible arrangement allowed for each type of pawternity leave, and then apply your policy fairly to everyone.

4. Will you put a cap on how many days per year an employee can take for pet bereavement?

For instance, an employee who fosters sick animals may cope with multiple animals passing away each year. Do you allow a day for each animal that dies, or just one day a year? Make sure you consider all angles and scenarios so that you’re not faced with excessive pet-based absences that may affect your business.

5. What are the business reasons for adopting this new benefit?

In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need a business case to justify pawternity leave benefits. But our world is far from perfect, and the reality is that you can’t just throw caution to the wind simply because it makes everyone happy.

However, the good news is, with proper planning you’ll likely be able to find a win-win solution that works for everyone – employees and the company as a whole.

Alternatives to pawternity leave

If you decide that pawternity benefits aren’t right for your company, there are still plenty of ways to show your support for your pet-loving employees.

Perhaps the easiest option is to be as generous with paid time off (PTO) as is financially feasible and to encourage employees to use their time as they need it. (This may require that you remind managers to control their judgmental comments about pet bereavement or puppy training.)

Other pet-friendly business strategies to consider may include:

  • Adding discounts on pet insurance to your overall benefits package
  • Partnering with a nearby doggy day care center or pet supply store for employee discounts
  • Adding an animal-focused charity to your corporate giving program
  • Creating a company wiki for employees to share pet-related information
  • Hosting lunch-and-learns focused on pet-related topics

Besides creating a new policy, there are many ways you can show your support for employees with pets. For example, you could welcome an employee’s new fur baby with a gift basket or kit that includes some treats and a toy, much like you would host a baby shower for a human child.

With a little creativity, the possibilities are endless.

Are you searching for more ways to engage and retain your best workers by rewarding them with a robust benefits package that makes them feel valued? Download our free e-magazine, The Insperity guide to employee benefits.