If any further proof was needed that Australians are enthralled with their pets, here it is. A devoted 86 per cent of all dog owning employees are prepared to take time off to care for sick animals and a third have done so in the past year. Out of the army of cat-lovers, 75 per cent are willing to take time off work.
The survey by PETstock lays bare the lengths that pet owners will go to for their special friends with three quarters of dog owners and 62 per cent of cat owners claiming they would risk their lives for their pets. So if you overhear a work colleague whispering endearments into their phone, don’t assume it’s for the girlfriend/husband/wife or boyfriend. Nearly half of all dog owners, talk to their pets on the phone when apart, compared to 29 per cent of cat owners. Although how this is done without the use of opposable thumbs is not explained.
When separation becomes too painful, a quarter of “dog parents”, as the survey calls them, take Rover into the office – so do 8 per cent of cat owners, along with a litter tray presumably. Unless, as in Meet the Parents, the cat has been trained to use the toilet.
Read into this what you will but, in comparison, when the parents of children were asked about the time they took off work to care for their sick offspring, less than half – 46 per cent – said that they had taken sickies or part-days off work for caring duties in the previous 12 months. The research, from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, showed that mothers took significantly more time off (52 per cent) than fathers (31 per cent) over the year to care for a sick child. The average amount of time taken over the year was a mere 3.5 days.
But let’s return to Fido. Some companies have unleashed policies that cater to this need in their workforce. Back in 2009, Virgin Mobile offered its staff five unpaid days off when they have a new puppy or kitten. A Virgin spokesperson said the leave was an acknowledgement that not all staff would have babies and that pets played a similar role in their employees’ lives. “We recognise that our staff may want to be at home for the first week or so with their new addition, to settle the pet and get them used to their surrounds.”
More recently in 2014, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy union in its list of demands to Rio Tinto, included the right of its workers to bereavement leave when a pet dies. Rio Tinto’s boss, Phil Edmands, was not moved and rejected the idea.
The Fair Work Act makes no reference to pets under personal and carer’s leave, and employers are under no obligation to offer paid leave to care for sick animals. However it’s clear from chatrooms on this most heated of subjects that employers respond in different ways to their staff taking sick leave to care for their animals and that many HR professionals are making assessments on a case by case basis.