A woman in Italy has won her battle to be granted sick pay for days she took off to look after her poorly dog, in a landmark European case.

The unnamed defendant, an academic at Rome’s La Sapienza University, brought her fight to the courts arguing she deserved to be compensated two days of family sick pay while she cared for her dog after surgery.

It is reportedly the first time that an Italian court has ever made a ruling on the subject.

Lawyers cited the country’s legislation which states that anyone who abandons a pet to “grave suffering” can be punished by a $11,800 (£9,000) and one year in prison.

The Italian Anti-Vivisection League (LAV), one of the biggest animal rights groups in Europe, assisted the woman’s case for her.

“It is a significant step forward that recognised that animals that are not kept for financial gain or their working ability are effectively members of the family,” he said.

“Now, with the necessary veterinary certification, those in the same situation will be able to cite this important precedent.”

Courts then agreed that the school could list the absence as being caused by “serious or family personal reasons” because animals count as family members.

Peninsula Head of Advisory Kate Palmer comments:

Although many people consider their pet to be an important member of their family, or even a dependant, they are not included within the statutory definition that entitles employees to unpaid time off work during emergencies. Other types of statutory leave, such as paid sick leave, are also not available to use for sick pets. The unavailability of statutory time off from work can leave pet owners stranded when trying to make arrangements to attend vet appointments or provide care for their sick pets.

Although there isn’t a legal entitlement to time off, most employers will be understanding and compassionate in these circumstances. Having a distracted employee whose mind is on their pet will not be beneficial to the business as the employee is likely to be less productive and at risk of making errors in their work. Various types of leave can be discussed with the employee, such as unpaid leave, short-notice holiday and time off in lieu. Amending hours to allow flexible start and end times, where the hours are made up in the future, can also be adopted to accommodate attendance at vet appointments.

There are companies who offer “pawternity” or “peternity” leave so employees can take time off work to settle a new pet in or visit the vets. This is a growing initiative and companies who find employees are often requiring time off for their pets may wish to introduce a similar policy to formalise the arrangements. The policy can include information such as whether this time off is paid or unpaid and whether there are any limits on time off, for example, a maximum number of days’ leave per year.

The difficult balance for many employers is to be understanding and flexible for those employees with ill animals, whilst not causing conflict with employees who don’t have family pets.


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