South African companies may start offering ‘pawternity’ leave

 ·12 May 2019

South African laws are continuously being updated to adapt to socio-economic developments, but some perks – such as ‘pawternity leave’ – are still at the discretion of individual companies.

According to Nicol Myburgh, head of HR at CRS Technologies, ‘pawternity’ or ‘furternity’ leave is the offer of time off to be with a new pet.

This is not a statutory form of leave and falls within the category of unregulated leave offered at the employer’s discretion, he said.

“It is important for employers to know that they don’t have to wait for legislation to come into effect in order to implement pawternity leave – employers may choose to offer ten hours or three days per year, or even more. It is entirely at their discretion,” said Myburgh.

He said that if employers wish to implement pawternity leave in their company, a policy must be formulated that includes the amount of leave days offered, the qualifying criteria (e.g. sick pet or adoption of a new pet), and the burden of proof required (e.g. vet’s note for a sick pet and a breeder’s certificate for a new pet).

“Again, it is up to the employer to decide what criteria to apply, Myburgh said.

While implementing pet related leave could lead to happier employees (knowing that the company cares), Myburgh pointed out that the risk – and potential cost to the company – is that it is open to abuse and must be closely monitored.

“Employers are generally free to offer staff various types of leave not covered by legislation but recognised and governed by company policy and contracts.

“This ‘other leave’ is not a right and ought to be seen as a privilege,” he said.

Myburgh distinguishes between leave covered by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, which includes annual, sick, family responsibility, and maternity leave, and non-statutory ‘other leave’ such as study, cultural, and now pawternity leave.

Prior to approving ‘other leave’ types, companies should weigh the business risk against operational requirements and the number of staff members needed to achieve operational goals, he said.

“For instance, if an employee takes leave that keeps him/her away from the office for a long period of time, like sabbatical leave, the employer should determine whether the employee’s absence will negatively impact the business operations,” Myburgh said.

Pet bereavement

While pet-bereavement and ‘pawternity’ leave is increasingly being offered in countries such as the US, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Finland – it is still a relatively new concept in South Africa.

Business Insider reports that at least seven UK companies currently offer  ‘pet paternity’ leave to their employees.

The University of KwaZuluNatal (UKZN) also recently introduced a new pet-bereavement policy – allowing staff a day off to mourn a departed dog, cat or any other animal which was close to them.

The policy – which applies to employees’ registered pets – came into effect in April 2018.

UKZN spokesperson Normah Zondo explained that for many university staff their pets were like family and this resonated with the leadership of the university.

Read: Maternity leave in South Africa vs the rest of the world

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