Employers offer ‘pawternity’ leave to attract, keep talent

Bonita (Bonnie) Bergin, who founded Bergin University of Canine Studies in Sonoma County, hangs out with Judy the dog on July 10, 2017. (CRISSY PASCUAL/ARGUS-COURIER STAFF)


So-called “pawternity” leave is the proverbial cat’s pajamas when it comes to employees and their pets.

The latest trend in employee benefits provides paid time off to bond with a new four-legged member of the family, or the death of a beloved pet.

“This is a wonderful idea,” said Dr. Bonnie Bergin, founder of Bergin University of Canine Studies in Rohnert Park.

The university gives employees two days paid leave when a pet dies, one less than paid leave when a human member of the family dies, said Bergin, who recently lost her own dog.

“We plan to up that amount. It can be an incredible grief,” she said.

The university does not yet provide paid leave for a new puppy, but Bergin said the idea is worth merit.

“I’m kind of embarrassed we’re not leading the charge. There is no question about the importance of that relationship,” she said.

Bergin University offers degree programs that provide, among other things, a deeper understanding of the human-dog bond, and how it benefits society.

From a psychological perspective, it’s important to bond with a new dog right away, Bergin said, and that means spending all day and night with the dog.

“If the dog is left alone, he’ll find other things to do with his time and learn to make other things important to them. That is a problem. You want them to know as soon as possible that this is the relationship that needs to develop. Even just throwing a ball is still building a tight relationship,” she said.

More companies are starting to get the importance of the dog-human bond and are allowing employees to bring their dogs into the workplace.

It’s a perk that can recruit and retain employees.

Software company VMware in Palo Alto has a history of offering a dog-friendly work environment.

“Many of our people have said that this is one of the most important benefits of working here, which really says something when you consider the lengthy and robust list of benefits we offer our people,” said Michael Thacker, director of corporate public relations. “We recognize that our community is stronger and more fun when our people can bring their full selves to work and for many of our people that means bringing their dogs, who are akin to family.”

The company’s campus is equipped with doggie waste bags and receptacles. Employees who bring their dogs to work are asked to sign an agreement on dog etiquette, and ensure their pets are vaccinated and properly ID-tagged.

Salaried employees, who represent 90 percent the company’s workforce, can also take as many days off as they need to unwind, unplug and take care of themselves and their loved ones after the death of a pet.

“This has been in the HR world for about a year as a benefit trend, though I think the actual adoption of it formally by companies is really low. Informally though, for example allowing employees time off or even use sick days for grief over pet, or vacation days used to acclimate a puppy, has been around for quite a while,” said Lisa Johnson, director at Nelson Staffing in Sonoma.

While just starting to catch on in the U.S., “pawternity” leave has been around for a while in the United Kingdom.

According to Petplan, a company that provides health insurance for pets (including birds and reptiles), 5 percent of pet owners in the U.K. have been offered paid leave by their employers to attend to their pets.

Scottish brewing company BrewDog was one of the first to offer the benefit, with a week of paid leave. The reason given on the BrewDog website is that they just really love dogs. Also, it aims to be “the best company to work for, ever.”

Another company in Manchester, U.K., an IT firm called BitSol Solutions gives staff three weeks paid leave if they get a new “four-legged friend”, owner Greg Buchanan told the Mirror.

The Kennel Club, a governing body for various canine activities, including shows, 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, as reported in The Guardian. Plus, studies show that autonomy is a key to employee happiness, and happiness is a key to productivity.

Kimpton operates more than 60 hotels and 70-plus restaurants, bars and lounges in more than 30 cities worldwide, including one in San Francisco. Guest rooms include such things as yoga mats and in-room fitness programming.

It has also been named a Fortune magazine “Best Place to Work” seven times since 2009.

Pet leave policy varies by property and is up to the discretion of each manager.

“Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants’ managers may grant up to three days away from work for pet bereavement. Founder Bill Kimpton brought his border collie, Chianti, to work with him starting in 1981, and the company has since supported the special relationship humans have with their pets by welcoming employees’ and guests’ pets at its hotels and providing employee benefits of pet insurance and bereavement leave,” said a company spokesperson.

The city of Emeryville might be on the cutting edge in California, however.

“The employee may use Paid Sick Leave to provide care for a guide dog, signal dog, or service dog of the Employee, Employee’s family member, or the person designated by the Employee,” according to its minimum-wage ordinance.

Going one step further, the data platform provider Mparticle, in New York, offers two weeks of paid leave if an employee adopts a rescue dog. The recruiter for the company, Laurel Peppino, said it’s to provide time for training and walks, according to The Times.

“We offer maternity and paternity leave and a pet is just another member of the family,” she said. “We don’t discriminate just because they aren’t human.”

Cynthia Sweeney covers health care, hospitality, residential real estate, education, employment and business insurance. Reach her at Cynthia.Sweeney@busjrnl.com or call 707-521-4259.