The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world in which federal law does not mandate paid maternity leave for all mothers. Meanwhile, some US companies are expanding their parental leave policies past human children.
“Pawternity leave,” as these companies call it, provides new pet owners with paid days off so they can get in some much-needed cuddle and house training time with their new fluffy companion. After all, is Charlie the Chihuahua any less a son than Charlie the boy?
According to Laurel Peppino, head of talent acquisition mParticle, the answer to that question is no. At the Manhattan-based data platform provider, employees who adopt rescue dogs or exotic pets like iguanas are guaranteed two weeks’ paid pawternity leave. “We offer maternity and paternity leave and a pet is just another member of the family,” Peppino told the Wall Street Journal. “We don’t discriminate just because they aren’t human.”
At many such pet-friendly companies, pet benefits extend beyond leave for new owners, including pet insurance, adoption consulting, and bereavement leave. The Manhattan apartment rental startup Loftey offers a week of paid leave in the event of a pet death: “We look at it just as if you had a sick kid,” Loftey co-founder Ori Goldman tells the WSJ.
It’s hardly surprising that New York City, awash with starry-eyed, millennial-founded startups, is leading America’s pawternity policies. According the the 2017 American Pet Products Assocition’s Pet Owners Survey, in the US just 11% of pet owners say their employers permit pets in the workplace. “But in New York’s creative and startup scene, you’re nothing without a pack of hounds snoozing in the conference room and an Instagram account flaunting the office dogs,” writes Anne Kadet for the WSJ.
These NYC startups are following pawternity pioneers Brewdog Brewery, a Scottish brewing company that offers one-week paid time off for new pet owners (part of their larger mission to be “the best company to work for, ever”), and Mars, which owns the pet-care brands Whiskas and Pedigree, and offers 10 hours paid time off for new pet owners, allowing all pets to come to the office after that.
Precious as pawternity leave is, pet care experts advocate for its developmental importance. “The Kennel Club says the first 16 weeks of a puppy’s life goes a long way to producing a well-balanced, sociable dog, and that requesting time off would be ‘sensible’ for the owner and ‘extremely beneficial’ to the puppy, who can be intensively trained, acclimatised and socialised,” reports The Guardian. Plus, studies show that autonomy is a key to employee happiness, and happiness is a key to productivity. Paid time with a new pup, assuming he isn’t peeing everywhere, will make the human heart very happy, indeed.
The irony of pet benefits, which compliment the seemingly endless perks offered to Silicon Valley workers, however, cannot be ignored. In the US, as of 2016 just 14% of civilian workers have access to paid family leave, according to the National Compensation Survey (NCS), conducted annually by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Comparatively, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees eligible workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave, including parental leave. Yet this act is only available to 88% of civilian workers in the US, as eligibility for FMLA leave requires an employee to have been employed the business for at least 12 months, worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and to work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles.
In the US, five states (California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington) including the District of Columbia have enacted laws offering paid family leave. These laws typically tax companies to create a benefit fund, which pays workers a portion of their salaries while they take family leave, including parental leave. But until federal legislation catches up, American workers have every right to roll their eyes at pawternity leave and its many mutations—adorable as those new furry friends may be.