Pawternity leave is a step too far in the pandemic pet boom

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A third of UK workers would consider changing jobs rather than work with an unvaccinated colleague, a survey claimed last week.

But what if that colleague also had claws? And a tendency to drool, nip and swipe your unguarded lunch?

If you thought the push to bring dogs to work was annoying before Covid-19, brace yourself.

The explosion of pandemic pet ownership is set to hit the workplace in ways that once would have seemed unimaginable.

Let me say here that I am petless but deeply pro-pet.

If I lived in a larger home in London, I would have joined the 3.2m Brits who have acquired a pet since lockdown — preferably a dog or cat and ideally one of each.

Pre-pandemic, I thoroughly approved of the pet-friendly policies at places such as Ben & Jerry’s and Amazon, whose Seattle headquarters staff worked with as many as 7,000 dogs.

For the past 18 months, I have enviously watched homebound colleagues brushing cats away from keyboards on Zoom calls.

Now, as offices start to reopen, it is perfectly understandable that hordes of new pet-owners are suffering a surge of separation anxiety about abandoning their furred companions.

Considering how tight the labour market is in many places, it is equally understandable that reams of employers have been planning a pet-tastic office reopening.

At least half of 500 executive-level managers in the US plan to start allowing pets in the workplace once offices reopen, a vet hospital group survey found this year. Most said they were doing this to meet employee requests and a large chunk were aiming to lure staff back to the office.

For people like me, this is excellent news.

But what if you’re allergic, or dislike the general concept of sharing an office with beings of limited conversation, foul breath and uneven bowel control?

No wonder one British pet care business has just launched “Petiquette”, a service designed to help employers go dog-friendly without annoying the dogless.

Frankly, I am not sure a business needs its advice on “establishing a dinner and play time that does not interrupt others”. But the general idea is sensible.

As I was reading the PR guff for Petiquette though, I noticed this: the Pets at Home petcare business that developed it also offers its own employees “PETernity leave”. Staff are allowed a day off when they get a new pet to help the creature settle in.

Such work perks are not new. BrewDog, the Scottish-based craft beer group, has allowed its staff to take a week of fully paid leave when adopting a new puppy or rescue dog since the start of 2017.

This did not stop dozens of former BrewDog staff writing an open letter this year claiming the company had a “rotten culture” and “toxic attitudes”.

Far too many businesses, especially in the US, do not offer paid parental leave, for humans

But the idea of pawternity leave has taken off during the pandemic as pet ownership has boomed.

The other week, Roger Wade, chief executive of the British pop-up food and retail business Boxpark, posted a social media poll asking people what they thought of an employee who had asked him for paternity leave to look after a new puppy.

My finger hovered uncertainly on the keyboard when I went to cast a vote. The more men who take paternity leave, the better. This month’s to-do in the US over the leave that Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, took to care for his newly arrived twins was as unpleasant as it was predictable.

I also understand why anyone with a new dog wants time off, and why it may make sense at a company offering lots of benefits and, crucially, generous paid parental leave, for humans.

But far too many businesses do not, especially in the US, the only wealthy nation that does not guarantee paid leave for new parents. As of last year, just 21 per cent of US workers had access to paid family leave from employers.

Thinking of statistics like that, I voted with the 61 per cent who were against Wade giving his employee puppy paternity leave. In a fairer world, it might be reasonable but for now, it’s just a pawprint too far.

pilita.clark@ft.com

Twitter: @pilitaclark

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