Should an employee be forced to choose between caring for a sick dog and a paycheck? An employer in Italy recently allowed an employee to use paid time off to care for her sick dog and the issue has been getting much media attention.
Must an employer in a jurisdiction with a PSL law allow an employee to use paid time to care for a sick dog?
The Emeryville, CA PSL law is the only PSL law that specifically mentions dogs. It allows employees to use sick time “to aid or care” for the employee’s or a family member’s “guide dog, signal dog, or service dog…”.
Elsewhere, any argument that a PSL law grants paid time off to care for a sick dog would likely focus on the definition of “family member” or “household.”
Is man’s best friend a family member? Many dog owner surveys provide an overwhelming “yes” response but the definition of that term in some PSL laws includes the word “person” or “individual,” which would seem to exclude dogs. In other PSL laws, the definition of “family member” does not include any reference to “person” or “individual.” For example, the Chicago Paid Sick Leave Ordinance states that employees may use PSL time if “a member of his or her family is ill or injured, or to care for a family member receiving medical care, treatment, diagnosis or preventive medical care.” The [20% of] Cook County Earned Sick Leave Ordinance has similar language. Perhaps one can argue that in a PSL jurisdictions that doesn’t specify that a family member be a person or individual, man’s best friend is a family member. A bit of a stretch, no doubt.
Perhaps a better possibility deals with the definition of “household.” The Minneapolis Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance, for example, includes “members of the employee’s household” within the definition of “family member.” A household is generally defined as all of the occupants living together as a unit. Is the family dog part of an employee’s household? If so, an employee might claim he or she can use PSL time to care for a sick dog.
Even if time to care for a sick dog is not covered by a PSL law, as a practical matter, it would not be difficult for an employee to take time off due to the stress of having a sick dog since an employer may not ask the medical reason for the employee’s absence and cannot require medical documentation unless the employee is out at least three days under most PSL laws. Of course, an employee might also be able to use any of the employer’s paid time off policies such as vacation, personal days or PTO to care for a sick dog.
I have not yet seen a case in which an employee requests PSL time to care for a sick dog but, given the media attention to the situation in Italy, I suspect one will be coming soon.