SICK AND BEREAVEMENT LEAVE FOR PETS, REALLY!

Now for something different.

At NZPPA on a regular basis this question comes up: Can an employee take sick or bereavement leave provided under the Holidays Act for their pets? The short answer is no.  If you classify your employees as pets well that is a totally different problem altogether and is not the focus of this post!

Sick leave for pets:

Under the definition for sick leave (Section 65) it refers to a “person”. Yes, in your heart Fluffy and Rover are people, but in legislation they don’t have that standing.

If you allow an employee to take sick leave because they have a dependent pet that is sick or injured, it does not meet the criteria of the Act and can mean that the employee could in the future (even if you provided sick leave to care for a pet at their request) have that leave credited back to their sick leave balance and you could end up paying twice when they take that sick leave again.

Of course, an employee can apply for annual holidays or unpaid leave and, if approved, they can be with their pet if sick. The employer can also provide additional agreed leave to cater for their employees’ needs if they believe it is in their interests and the needs of the business. BUT it must not be taken from the minimum entitlement provided under the Act.

From time to time NZPPA comes across employers that have provided an agreed pet leave provision to their employees that they can access if their pet is sick.  Some of these clauses state it is a separate entitlement, but when taken it comes from the employee’s sick leave entitlement provided under the Act.  This is wrong and should not happen as it is accessing entitlement provided for the employee, their spouse (sorry, you cannot marry your pet!) and a person who depends on the employee for care.  Again, this rules out your pet.  If the employer gives extra entitlement away from the minimum entitlement provided under the Holidays Act, then all is OK and Fluffy or Rover can get the care they need when required from their owner.

If the employer is going to give additional entitlement to employees when their pets are sick, then a range of things need to be thought through with payroll fully involved BEFORE it is just dumped on payroll to process (this usually happens when HR is involved). Issues to be considered include:

  • Is there a need to provide this type of leave to employees, have they asked for it, need it and what will the business get out of it?
  • Is there any qualifying period to get this type of leave? (How long does the employee need to be in the job before they get this additional entitlement?)
  • What are the eligibility criteria? (Which types of pets are covered: cats, dogs or assorted farm animals?) The feelings some people have towards a horse can be as strong as the feelings others have for their cat or dog.  Also, what about Goldie, the employee’s favourite goldfish that has a bad case of fin rot? Will you give them access to this agreed entitlement as well?
  • What rate will it be paid at? (It is recommended to include a statement that it is paid “at the employee’s ordinary rate of pay”.)
  • Do you ask for proof of the employee’s pet being sick or injured? As it is an agreed term, you could state please provide a receipt from the vet.
  • The leave provision needs to be fully costed to determine the outlay to the business today, tomorrow and 10 years from now and please don’t allow this to be cashed up!

It is important that clear criteria, written in plain language are created to manage this additional agreed leave entitlement as this is a cost to the business and a cost to payroll (in terms of processing time).

Bereavement leave for pets:

When a beloved pet passes away it can be devastating for an employee, but bereavement leave minimum entitlement provided under the Holidays Act cannot be provided for this sad event.

A lot of the points made above in relation to sick leave also apply to bereavement leave.  If both sick and bereavement leave are to be provided to the employee, the employer would need to decide if they will be provided as two different entitlements with different criteria or as a combined entitlement.

Again, think about payroll. It would be very beneficial to have them fully involved and things to think about include:

  • How will the employee apply for this? (Will it be a paper-based or online process?)
  • How will it be recorded and does it need to be reported? If the answer is yes, then how often?
  • Does this need to be included in the employee’s employment agreement, or as a discretionary leave entitlement provided at the time it is requested at the sole discretion of the manager?
  • If it is a truly discretionary payment and is not included as an agreed term, then it does not get included into gross earnings for leave rates under the Holidays Act.  If it is included as an agreed term, it will inflate the gross earnings for leave taken in the future (i.e. the next 12 months from when leave is taken).

So in conclusion, NZPPA is not stating that an employer should not provide sick or bereavement leave for pets – that is about the culture of your organisation.  But it is important that payroll is involved and it should be fully costed before the decision is made to provide it as an additional agreed leave entitlement to employees.

NZPPA supporting payroll and pets since 2007!

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