When you work in HR you think you have seen it all, then along comes a request that just blows you out of the water. You keep a straight face as the employee puts in their request to take personal leave as their pet has died or is sick and when the initial shock has subsided and you really process the situation, you can see why it’s easy to blur the lines.
We have all worked with a person who continually abuses the system. Hell we may all be guilty of using a sneaky sick day after a massive night on the booze, but in Australia our culture almost normalises the employee’s right to “chuck a sickie”. Australian snow resorts have even used this in a marketing campaign, encouraging punters to “chuck a snowy”. These benefits are commonly seen as a rite of passage, and sick leave is reported to cost Australian businesses million dollars in lost productivity every year. So should Australian employers be required to fund yet another form of leave?
Not only is sick leave on the rise but weird and wonderful requests for personal leave are right up there. At HR Gurus we often receive questions around what is personal leave and what can and can’t it be used for? When you think about it people who don’t have kids and who have “fur babies” you can see why they think pet leave may be a totally legitimate entitlement?
I was once asked if a personal day could be used as an employee’s goldfish had passed away. Yes you read correctly, a goldfish! Now I may seem a little heartless here but the reality is, goldfish are a pet that can require replacement often. The question is where do you draw the line, it may seem fair if the employee is childless as their pets are really their babies, but what about those families who have 5 kids and 6 pets? How much personal leave would we need to cover every family emergency big or small?
The facts and rules explained…
Sick leave, also known as personal leave lets an employee take time off work to recover from illness or injury, family emergencies or caring responsibilities.
According to the NES, sick/personal leave covers immediate family members or household members. So I guess you could argue that a pet fits this definition but is open to interpretation.
By definition, immediate family members are a spouse, de-facto partner, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling or child. Or the parent, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of the employee’s de-facto partner.
A household member is any person who lives with the employee. Sorry pet lovers this does not include fur babies.
Let’s focus on the true purpose of personal leave and when it’s appropriate to use it. Below are two cases of when an employee has requested to use a personal day and a manager’s appropriate response.
Jenny’s daughter came home from kindergarten yesterday with a runny nose and was looking a little pale. Jenny thought a good night’s sleep will help little Ashley and she would still be fine in the morning.
In the morning when Jenny woke, she found Ashley’s runny nose had also turned into a sore throat and a fever. Jenny called her Manager Ron and advised she would need to use a personal day to take care of Ashley and take her to the doctor.
Ron thanked Jenny for calling first thing in the morning, allowing him time to allocate her work amongst the team. Ron asked Jenny to obtain a medical certificate for “Carer’s Leave” while at the doctors and to contact him as soon as possible if she would not be in the office tomorrow. Ron wished Ashley a speedy recovery. Doctors and Hospitals often have a special medical certificate for carers leave and if you request one they should be provided.
Sean woke up to find his poodle Fifi had stomach issues overnight and had pooped all over the lounge room. Sean was extremely distressed! How would he remove the poop from his cream carpet and was Fifi ok? After keeping an eye on Fifi (who now seemed fine) and scrubbing his cream carpet for an hour Sean called his Manager Geraldine. Sean advised her he would need to use a personal day due to the situation that had occurred and to look after Fifi who he considered as a valued member of his family.
Geraldine thanked Sean for calling and empathised with his situation. Geraldine advised Sean that unfortunately personal leave would not be able to be used in particular situation. According to the NES an immediate family member or household member is an employee’s not a pet.
Let’s break it down, and test your knowledge on personal leave rules:
So who really offers “Pet Leave”
Back in 2009 Virgin Mobile introduced a somewhat controversial policy called Pet-ernity leave, yep you guessed it employees could access up to 5 days Pet-ernity leave when they brought home a new puppy or kitten. I am not joking this is a serious policy! You can read more here =>
In 2014 the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union submitted a number of demands to Rio Tinto including a request for greater leave entitlements for workers. This included bereavement leave for when an employee’s pet dies. Rio Tinto quickly stamped out the requests as “unreasonable”. It is also reported that a few EBA’s in Australia include provisions for personal leave that can be accessed to care for pets! #I’m serious!
If you need assistance dealing with your weird and wonderful personal leave requests contact HR Gurus today. We can implement proper policies and our Virtual HR Manager packages can provide your team with around the clock HR advice when you need it, how you need it.
Written by resident HR Guru Natalie Bol.