In the U.S., the only federal law guaranteeing maternity leave is unpaid, and it only applies to some employees. “The law that most women rely on is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which will protect your job for up to 12 weeks after childbirth or adoption,” reported The Cut. “The law doesn’t require that you be paid for that time off; it just requires that your job be waiting for you when you return and says that you can’t be penalized for taking the time off.”
Despite this absurd reality in which we unfortunately live, some employers have bravely taken it upon themselves to create a more civilized policy — at least, when it comes to getting a new pet. Last month, the New York Times reported that Minneapolis marketing company Nina Hale recently changed its employee benefits to include the ability to work from home for a week to welcome new pets. “This is kind of a no-brainer,” Allison McMenimen, a vice president at the company who helped devise the company’s new policy, told the Times. “The idea of offering benefits that just help keep employees at the office, that’s over.”
According to Amanda Augustine, a career advice expert for TopResume, “pawternity” or “fur-ternity” leave can take many forms in the workplace. “For some employers, this policy provides new pet owners with the ability to work from home for a limited time to welcome their “fur baby” to the family, she says. “For others, it allows workers to use their existing PTO to care for their new pet. Still others provide specific PTO days for pet care or pet bereavement.”
Augustine suggests that pawternity leave and other pet-supportive benefits can be a smart way for employers to attract and retain younger candidates in a competitive job market. Which makes sense, considering a 2017 report by the American Pet Products Association claims millennials are now the primary pet-owning generation.
So what might this policy look like in action? It depends who you ask. James Watt, the owner of BrewDog, a multinational brewery and pub chain based in Scotland, tells me that dogs have always played a central part in the BrewDog story ever since his chocolate lab pup, Bracken, came bouncing into the room as they struggled with figuring out what to name the company. “We offer one paid week off to ensure the newest four-legged member of the family can be properly settled in,” says Watt. That means that the policy doesn’t apply to pets giving birth — only to the arrival of a new pet into the household.
For animal lovers, Watt’s reasoning makes sense. “We understand the importance of settling in a new pup and the difficulties of striking the work-life balance, so we want to take as much stress out of the equation for our employees as possible,” he tells me. “It’s all part of our mission to be the best company to work for (ever), and so we work hard to provide an awesome workplace for our amazing task force.”
Augustine tells me that if a company is going to institute such a policy, it must be clear on its policy’s terms. “For instance, what constitutes a pet? Will these benefits only apply to cat and dog owners, or will they also be extended to other types of pet owners? Will a standard amount of time be offered per year to each pet owner, or will it be applied on a per-pet basis?” she says.
Additionally, Augustine suggests starting small before committing to a comprehensive pawternity policy. “For example, offer a flexible work arrangement to new pet parents for the first week and encourage employees to use their PTO for pet care, when necessary,” says Augustine. “If this test proves successful for both the employer and its employees, then you can consider adopting a broader set of pet-supportive benefits.”
More importantly, if you’re thinking of offering pawternity leave, perhaps consider enhanced maternity and paternity pay packages for actual human beings who are expecting new arrivals, or who adopt. This is something Watt tells me BrewDog were already offering before they instituted their pet policy. “Packages consist of 12 weeks full pay, followed by 12 weeks half pay for enhanced shared parental and maternity leave, or two weeks full pay for enhanced paternity pay,” Watt says.
To that end, Augustine tells me that a company should never offer these pet-owner benefits if it has yet to establish a solid paid maternity and paternity leave policy for its employees. “What message is the company sending to its employees if it has a policy in place to support feline and canine parents, but not human parents?” she says. “It’s bad enough that there’s no mandatory maternity and paternity leave across the U.S. — let’s not add insult to injury by advocating for pawternity leave.”