Copyright © 1999-2003 Ethan A. Winning
Okay, so I don't like the idea of pets at work unless you work at home. Someday I may even modify my thinking about that, but my experience - and contrary to the fillers in papers from the Wall Street Journal to the Mercury News - has been mostly negative. However, there is nothing quite as sad as a sick animal, and nothing quite as forlorn (and totally unproductive) as the employee who has just "lost" a cat or dog.
When we had to put our wire fox terrier to sleep in 1985, I tried to lose myself in work, but my heart wasn't in it for several days after.
Along came Max, our Norfolk terrier and, after 11 years Max's heart murmur turned to congestive heart failure. As I held him in my arms while the vet put him out of his misery, mine started. For three months, I continued taking the same walks we had taken, and the tears did flow. Try thinking about org charts or compensation programs or humor in personnel under those conditions!
I got my work done, but I certainly could have used a couple of days off from the pressures of work, and even the pressures of "socializing" with humankind. For those who don't understand, this will just be lost on you. But I know that there is a grieving period for a pet who has been part of ones daily life that can be as devastating as losing a human family member.
Perhaps there is a very real need to allow employees to use sick leave or vacation time to allow the grieving process to regain some semblance of order or balance. I am not proposing bereavement leave, and there are some problems with a sick leave policy which allows for caring for a sick animal, but there should be allowances made under these conditions - such as using sick time, personal time, or vacation.
Certainly there are already companies - most of them with PTO (personal time off) policies - that allow employees a day or more off in these circumstances, but they're in the minority. I'd like to see more businesses make time available, especially for grieving over the loss of ones cat or dog.
One will note that I've limited this to cats and dogs. I'm sure that there are those who are very much attached to their hamsters or iguanas or cockatiels, and the sense of loss and emptiness is just as great, but there has to be limits. It's going to be tough enough to verify that a dog or cat has is sick or has died -- I'm certain there's at least one manager reading this who'll think of a shoe box with the remains -- although I'm also sure that vets would be more than willing to confirm that that is the case. (Hell, we got notes from the vet and our pet insurance company when we lost Max.) At the very least, however, we've got to start with "normal" pets.
What brought all this on? I was due to give an in-house workshop in February, and our current dog, Alex, became...became...not Alex. No bouncing, bounding, licking, chasing bees and butterflies. That is just not normal for a Cairn terrier.
The question was whether I would forego the seminar or my wife would take off from one of her teaching assignments and reschedule a couple of client meetings. Since her clients and teaching are done locally, she got the heavy duty, and I called twice a day while I was gone. My wife wasn't able to use any sick leave, but that wasn't expected anyway. It did get me to thinking, however.
If time off is given for sick cats and dogs, certainly employers should allow sick time off for the care of the employee's children. This is another turnabout for me. (Hey I'm slow, but I do turn. It's the mental basting process that requires the extra time.) Yes, employers with 50 or more employees (and perhaps down to 25 by the end of this year), have to allow for such time off under the Family Medical Leave Act (and the Family Medical Rights Acts in Washington and California). But it seems to me that the smaller companies could benefit by voluntarily setting a policy of allowing time off for the care of a child because it also seems to me that a disheartened employee or one who is concerned about a sick child in a smaller company has a greater effect upon his or her fellow employees than one in a Dilbertian bureaucracy.
I realize that this emphasizes some negatives in any leave system. How do we know that Fluffy, Muffy, or Johnny or Pamela is really sick? Again, it's probably easier to check on the cat or dog (that would be Fluffy or Muffy unless you're a weird parent) than it would on a sick child. After all, kids get the flu and they stay in bed. But Fluffy needs a trip to the vet. On the other hand, rather than going into this with an age-old element of distrust, so long as the employee does not abuse sick leave, why not let them take a day off?
Okay, still not satisfied? Then, how about this: if you do not have a PTO policy, employees who must stay home with a sick animal, human or otherwise, or who have just lost a pet, must take vacation days to do so. Nothing says lovin' like taking a vacation day for such stress-filled situations. Then the employee can return to work with no guilt and able to concentrate on the job to be done.
P.S. I am not suggesting that those who are adopting a dog or cat be given time off to bond. Let's not get carried away.