can you use sick leave to care for pets?

A reader writes:

I adopted a dog a few years ago, and this is the first time I’ve had a pet since I’ve been a working professional. Recently my dog had major surgery, which is going to require extra care at home. One of my coworkers who has dogs and has worked for our company for over 30 years told me to use sick time if I needed to take time off to care for my dog, because that’s what she usually does.

I emailed my supervisor and asked if I could adjust my schedule to take a few hours off for the next few days and list it as one day of sick leave (we are exempt), which she approved. I was then talking to a different coworker, who seemed astonished that I was using sick leave and told me that sick leave was only for human family members and could not be used to care for pets. I checked our company’s written policy and it does say that sick leave can be used “to attend to or care for ill family members or other persons residing in your household who are ill.” I then emailed my supervisor again, referencing the policy and asking if my request was still ok. She responded that the schedule was fine but she should have clarified that I would have to use vacation time.

I plan to just use the vacation time and really have no interest in following up with either my boss or coworker again, but I’m wondering what is normal? Do employers normally let employees use sick time to care for pets?

Some employers do. Most don’t. All should.

If sick leave usage is causing a problem, an employer should address that. But I’d like them to stay out of who you consider a member of your family.

{ 210 comments… read them below }

  1. Rob Aught*

    It’s none of my business why anyone wants to use sick time. There are many valid uses but if someone is abusing it and runs out then they’ll have to take vacation time when they do get sick or work unpaid if they run out of that.

    If someone is outright abusing the system, I’d have to do something about it. Otherwise, as a white collar professional I assume they are adult enough to make the best use of their time.

    That said, I have let people use flex time to take care of cats and dogs or work from home for the same reason. Pets are generally less demanding than humans so this hasn’t been a problem yet.

    1. Rob Aught*

      Sorry, got in a rush.

      It’s fine to check with your supervisor. Individual companies and supervisors will have varying views on this. It doesn’t hurt to ask and may be a good idea to find out up front. On the other hand, I really don’t give details about why I take sick time. I just say it’s a doctor’s appointment or I don’t feel well.

      I had an overly intrusive manager when I worked retail who wanted to know why we didn’t want to work overtime. He would badger us constantly and I really resented having to give him any information about my personal life. I refuse to do the same. There might be occasions when I do need more information, but most of the time I don’t so I don’t ask.

      There should be boundaries between an employer and their direct supervisor.

      1. Piper*

        “On the other hand, I really don’t give details about why I take sick time. I just say it’s a doctor’s appointment or I don’t feel well. ”

        This. If an employee isn’t abusing the system, it doesn’t matter who’s sick and what’s going on. It’s not an employer’s business.

        1. Jessa*

          Exactly, with the exception of a return to work permission if they’re out for an amount of time, or if they were contagious (you don’t have to tell your boss why you’re out, but you should let them know if whatever it was could have made someone else ill, and most jobs have a rule about being out more than x days.) My doctor writes “under a doctor’s care” without putting why in it.

          1. Natalie*

            And with any job with physical labor, permission might be required following surgery. In the 5 years I’ve been at my company we’ve had 2 employees have surgery and need light duty or other modifications for a little while after coming back to work.

          2. Anna*

            This. The only time I’ve ever been more specific about what I had than “I don’t feel well” is when I had H1N1. A bunch of us at work caught it and it was important information for my manager to determine when I should come back. (Since it was such a virulent illness, she wasn’t going with just “you no longer have a fever” she was very firm about “you haven’t had a fever for 24 hours”.)

    2. Coco*

      From a procedural perspective, employees do not have to provide specific details on how they use their sick time. It’s not the employer’s business unless doctor’s notes, disability, etc are involved. Call in sick and be done with it. I also wouldn’t share details with coworkers either.

      From a personal perspective, I don’t consider taking care of a pet good use. Again, that’s my personal perspective but it doesn’t mean anything to anyone else but me. Heck, I sometimes use my sick days for “mental health.”

      The OP can use her sick time for whatever she wants.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        I would (and do) use my vacation time or other personal time for taking care of my sick pets.

        Every company is different. I agree with Alison that they all should allow sick time for taking care of sick furkids.

  2. The IT Manager*

    Sick leave for pet care? I am shocked anyone would think this is okay. As far as I understand sick leave is for yourself and your (human) family when they’re sick or have medical appointments. I know people love their pets, but pets are not humans. It has never, ever occured to me, and if I heard someone was doing it, I’d think they’re trying to cheat the system somehow. Not the the LW seems to be doing so, but this is definately something to clarify before asking for sick leave to care for pets because I do not think I am that out there with this point of view.

    1. Cathy*

      If I have 5 days of paid sick leave, what does it matter what I use it for? And how is it abusing the system? (I only see it as cheating if the company allows for unlimited paid sick time.)

      Yeah, if I take 4 days in January to care for Fido and then want another 3 days in March when I get flu, then you (my manager) can counsel me on better managing my time off.

      1. fposte*

        I know at my university there’s serious accounting around these things–sick days and vacation days are treated differently, have different rollover and payout rules, etc. that does make it matter whether a day taken is vacation or a sick day.

        However, I don’t personally care as long as the work’s getting done.

        1. Sascha*

          My university does this accounting as well, but what I find interesting is the large number of people who use vacation time instead of sick for appointments and illness, because they earn the vacation back faster (your vacation hours earned increase with years of service). So this is another situation where the leave time is not being used according to the rules, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter, so long as it’s not being abused and causing workplace issues.

        2. Anonymous*

          I work at a uni, and we do have separate sick and vacation time. Accounting for time off is a PITA, but it depends on the uni how it can be used. Even before FMLA went into effect it was OK to take time off to take care of a family member. If I didn’t have any vacation time, my manager would be totally fine with me taking a sick day to take care of a pet (and I have taken an emergency vacation day to take a cat to the vet for a UTI.). And since the reporting form for time off only asks if it’s sick, vacation or FMLA, I can put sick on it and not explain any more than that. The only issue I have with the separate sick and vacation times is that the roll-over and accrual times are different. The amount of sick time I can accrue is far more than vacation time (it’s designed that way to accommodate people who need to take a long period of time off). If it was just PTO it would be better for everyone, but not with the FMLA regs, my uni is not about to change the system.

        3. Cassie*

          Our university also has different accounting methods for sick days and vacation days – vacation can be cashed out upon retiring/leaving. Sick can’t. If I am out sick or have a doc appt, I am definitely using sick leave (not vacation). However, because of the different accounting policies, I’ve heard of a prof asking his staff to use vacation even though the person was out sick. Not sure if that is legal or not.

          I think most of us accrue sick and vacation at roughly the same rate (I think vacation is one or two hours more per month) – so I think most would probably prefer to use sick rather than vacation (assuming it was for something that is not clear-cut in one category).

      2. mplo*

        I’m not sure that taking a sick day off to care for a pet is such a great idea, but if your boss is at all understanding, s/he will understand if your pet is sick, has to be brought to the vet, and needs some extra care at home.

        Good luck.

    2. Meg*

      Other people have different definitions of family than you do. And why does it matter if pets are not human? That’s not actually relevant if you think about it.

      1. some1*

        Right, it’s too subjective. Just like this gets subjective when we are talking about human family members. Does a 14-yr-old need a parent at home all day if she is sick? Does a 19-yr-old? Maybe the 14-yr-old does not, and maybe the 19-yr-old sick is too sick to drive to the doctor but needs to go.

        If my co-worker is calling in because her child is sick, should I get annoyed that her husband never stays home when her kid is sick?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          This is hardly a species-on-species war here, where we need to pit ourselves against the cats, lest they take us over. We’re talking about whether it’s reasonable to use sick time for animals who many consider members of their family.

          1. Cat*

            Though we do need to pit ourselves against the cats lest they take over; mine has been staring at me in a disturbing manner recently. (And this is after I used sick time to take her to the vet!)

            1. Chinook*

              And this is why I never downloaded cat games on to my tablet – I don’t want my cat to start learning how to use the technology. At the moment, he knows how to control the dog to open the cabinet door. With technology, he would be dangerous!

            2. Susan*

              Oh dear, I just had to Google “Pocket Pond” and now I need to go download it for my two cats. Thank you :)

              1. Jamie*

                You will never have another moment’s peace with your iPad. It will become just another cat toy, but one they actually play with.

            3. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I downloaded Pocket Pond for my cats … and then all the fish in my pond died because I hadn’t logged in in a week or something! Jamie, how do you play this?

              1. Jamie*

                How do you kill virtual fish?!

                I just turn it on and lay it on the bed and the cats paw the fish and then flip it over looking for the water…but then I didn’t kill all my fictional fish…

                Redownload it. :)

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Seriously, they were all floating at the top of the water, dead. It was horrifying! Apparently you have to clean the water and feed them and things. (For anyone thinking this is about real fish, it is not.)

            4. KellyK*

              Pit ourselves against the cats lest they take over? That ship sailed a long time ago.

            5. Windchime*

              Yeah. Google “How to tell if your cat is plotting to kill you” to learn the truth. I’m a cat person, but I’m telling you….you have to sleep with one eye open.

        2. Meg*

          …. This doesn’t even make sense. This isn’t a war between us and domesticated animals. If an employee has a certain amount of sick days and would rather use them on caring for their sick animal than for themselves, I see no reason why they can’t. Many, many people consider animals to be a part of their family.

          The way you’re phrasing this is WAY too adversarial. IT’s the employee’s alloted sick time, and if he’she wants to use it to care for a pet, they should be allowed to.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            This reminds me of how when I used to work for an animal protection organization, sometimes people would tell us that we shouldn’t spend time on animals because humans were more important. It was such a non sequitur — you don’t tell people not to work at a flower shop because humans are more important, or not to spend their time at a baseball game or drawing pictures because humans are more important. And rarely (never) were these remarks made by someone who was spending their time trying to cure cancer or stop child abuse.

            The adversarial animals vs. humans stance was one I saw a lot in that job, and it’s bizarre. It’s not a competition.

            1. Kay*

              I agree. I work with an animal rescue and I get some strange comments from people about how I shouldn’t be spending my time helping animals when humans were suffering. It seemed like such a random point to be bringing up. As if helping one was mutually exclusive from helping the other.

              That was without even going in to how helping animals can benefit humans. As AAM just said, It’s bizarre and it isn’t a competition.

            2. Anonymous*

              I will say I saw this a lot in a development nonprofit. Why are you trying to help people understand finance and help them start businesses, just show them how to get jobs. Or there are people who are hungry today, you should feed them. I think it is pretty common.

              But never in a for-profit job did someone say, why are you trying to get people to buy things they can’t afford.

            3. Meg*

              That IS really strange. I’ve noticed people get competitive about charity causes a lot – “why are you working to prevent this when you should be working to prevent that, etc”. I don’t quite understand that mentality, but I’ve seen it too.

              1. Anonymous*

                A coworker once took me to task because I didn’t donate to breast cancer causes; I directed my donations to AIDS research.

                She gave me this long lecture about why breast cancer ‘beats’ AIDS as a worthy cause and paused to get my reaction, which was, “My brother died of AIDS. Case closed.”

                She stopped ragging me, but why did she even start?

            4. Jessa*

              Not to mention animals are so useful to humans, even if it’s just being there. I know (I have major depression) my cat sometimes keeps me sane when I get like that. You can bet I’d use sick leave if I needed to, to get her to the vet.

          2. Maire*

            Yes, and also it’s not like the sick leave you spent caring for a sick pet would otherwise have been spent caring for someone else’s sick relative. Each person gets individual leave; it’s not like a collective pool.

            1. Windchime*

              Exactly. Fortunately for me, Sick and Vacation are all lumped under the heading of “Paid Time Off”, so when my 18-year old cat was sick and dying last year, you’d better believe that I took time off to care for him. And if I’d been force to, I would not have hesitated to fib about why I was out. Fortunately for me (and Patches), that wasn’t necessary… employer is Awesome with a capital “A”.

      2. glennis*

        Some bargaining units specify what the sick time can be used for. My municipal employer has bargaining agreements with some five different bargaining units. When my co-worker needed time off to care for an AUNT, her agreement allowed it. When my elderly mother needed to me care for her, my agreement did not – it specified child, spouse or domestic partner, and did not mention parent. This totally surprised me. My request was in advance for a week’s time, and I had to travel, so I told my supervisor the reason and she called the clause to my attention. I ended up using vacation and personal leave.

        But if I had to take only a couple of days and stayed in town to care for Mom? I probably wouldn’t have told her, and would have used sick time. I certainly would for a pet. I do it for “mental health” breaks myself!

    3. SarasWhimsy*

      I completely disagree with you. Some of us don’t have human family members. And our pets do come to replace those people. If there was something wrong with my dog, if I had vacation time eligible to take, I would, but if I had to take sick time, I would.

      Look at it this way: If I was at work, knowing something was wrong with my dog and I wasn’t there I wouldn’t be able to concentrate enough to do my job. My manager – and most managers in a professional setting, I think – would prefer I didn’t do a bad job when I could have just taken some time off to take care of the situation instead.

      1. Jamie*

        FTR some of us with kids and/or spouses also consider the furrier set members of the family.

        We’ve had several discussions here where a lot of people felt it was perfectly valid to use sick time for “mental health days” to destress or whatever…this is at least as valid.

        When you adopt a pet you make a commitment to a living creature and that includes caring for them when they are ill or hurting. Of course you have to balance that with work – just as you would for a human relative or yourself. No one has endless flex time, but caring for them shouldn’t be out of consideration just because they can’t drive or pay taxes.

        1. Dorothy Lawyer*

          “When you adopt a pet you make a commitment to a living creature and that includes caring for them when they are ill or hurting.”

          Yes, thank you.

        2. Meg*

          This is a perfect response. Pets aren’t inanimate possessions – they need love and caring just like people do.

        3. Chinook*

          “When you adopt a pet you make a commitment to a living creature and that includes caring for them when they are ill or hurting.” And even if you can trust that they will be okay while you are gone, there is going to be that moment when you wake up and realize the dog isn’t going to. Even the most heartless person has to realize that disposing of a body takes and is atleast as important as a burst pipe.

          1. Chinook*

            On the plus side, my excuse for missing work that day will be “disposing of a body” and there is a part of me that just finds that hilarious in a very dark way.

    4. Katniss*

      But once you get into that, all kinds of other questions come up. How do we define family? I stayed home yesterday because my boyfriend had a kidney stone. He’s not technically my family, should my employer be mad about that? I once stayed home because my beloved cat had passed away overnight from a surprise illness. I suppose my employer could have questioned that but they certainly wouldn’t have built up any loyalty from me by doing so.

      I’m with everyone else, I love the idea of a PTO bucket and WHY you take time off is no one’s business.

      1. Chinook*

        Not all employers are kind enough to let you stay home to take care of a boyfriend or spouse. DH was taken to hospital with kidney stones and I got a phone call before I left for work saying they would let me know when to pick him up (it was the military hospital, so I wasn’t expected to run to his bedside). I gave them my work number, called my employer, told them what was happenning and that I was going in to work since a)it was on the wya to the hospital and b)I would be a nervous wreck at home. While at work, I got the call and asked someone to cover the rest of my shift so I could DH home. The next day, the owner got mad at me for leaving during my shift with no notice! I pointed out that our nearest family was 1,000 km away and would they have let me do this is he was a child. I got no response and was fired a week later.

        1. Ruffingit*

          Wow, that is horrible Chinook. Sorry about the firing, but it seems like it was a blessing because your manager was quite the a**hole.

      2. Natalie*

        Excellent point. My boyfriend and I have lived together for 6 years – should he count less than my cousin’s husband of 3 days counts for her?

    5. Brandy*

      People take “mental health days” all the time using sick leave. Even if you don’t consider pets members of the family (I’m with you on this…and I treat my dog like a child), call it “emotional well-being” or whatever. Point is, you feel awful/stressed, your pet is ailing. I think this is fine.

      If OP wanted to take FMLA to care for a dying pet, that is a different issue.

      I thank my stars we have PTO versus this “sick vs. vacation” nonsense. As long as I know about it as far in advance as possible, I don’t give a hoot why my reports aren’t in the office. Broken leg, volunteer work, practicing silly faces in the mirror…PTO is PTO.

      1. The IT Manager*

        I’ve said it on a different thread that I am opposed to sick days being used for a “mental health day” when applied by people who just don’t feel like going into work that especially when used by people for a fun day out. If it was classified as a personal day it’s different, but I am all around strict with my definition of a sick day.

        1. Coco*

          Interesting. Isn’t mental health a legitimate medical field? Aren’t stress and depression legitimate ailments that can lead to bigger problems? If someone can’t get out of bed because of depression, what should they do?

          I’m not really challenging you. I just find the absolute strictness of your perspective intriguing.

          1. Colette*

            In my experience, people who take “mental health days” aren’t actually dealing with a mental health issue – they just want a day off.

            1. fposte*

              It’s a pretty established locution, though. If you’re sick–which includes a depressive episode or other illnesses–you take a sick day, not a mental health day or a physical health day. As Chinook notes, if you don’t call it a sick day, it suggests you’re not sick. Given that there is an official term, and “mental health day” is pretty widely established as a day off when you’re not sick, I think it’s wise to stick to established terms like “sick day” if you’re talking about illness, physical or mental.

              1. Jessa*

                And sometimes a “mental health day,” includes being so stressed at work that if you don’t take a day you’re going to have a breakdown. You’re not strictly sick or ill, you’re probably going to do things on that day off that you don’t do when you’re sick or ill, however, not taking it can be a huge issue to your future performance standards.

                I still think that qualifies for sick time. If you want to call it “coming down from major stress day” go for it.

                1. Liz in a Library*

                  I agree with this. In the past, mental health day has meant “so that I don’t sit in my office sobbing all day” day and “I am so exhausted from the overtime that I’m going to hallucinate” day. I think that is truly, legitately mental health promotion.

                2. Windchime*

                  I agree. I haven’t taken a mental health day at this job, but I sure did at my previous job where it was constant, never-ending stress punctuated by co-worker cruelty. I didn’t feel bad about it, either; would they have rather had me sobbing at my desk, as Liz mentioned?

                3. Cassie*

                  I haven’t taken a mental health day before, but there have definitely been times where I feel like I’m going to go crazy because there’s just so much stuff going on… when I get stressed, I get stomachaches. Would that qualify as being “sick”? I think the hardliners may say no, but I think it does.

                4. Joanne*

                  On that note, I do things that I enjoy on sick days too. Like renting movies, working on quilts, and other hobbies. I would hate it if an employer decided it wasn’t a sick day because I was having fun while having a cold.

          2. The IT Manager*

            Mental health is a legitimate medical field. Mental illness is real and people suffering from it should take sick leave to care for themselves. I don’t think many, if any, companies actually have a designated “mental health sick/vacation day” broken out separately from sick days.

            In my experience, though, the term “mental health day” has come to mean I don’t feel like coming into work today because I hate my boss, co-workers, job, it’s a beautiful sunny day, my friend got tickets for a baseball game, or I just don’t want to deal with the annoyances of my job today. If you want to take vacation for any of those reasons, fine, but if you’re not actually sick don’t call it a sick day. A “mental health day” is a jokey way of labeling a vacation day as a sick day.

          3. Jamie*

            Mental health issues are real – but calling in sick for a “mental health day” generally doesn’t come with a diagnosis. People use this colloquially all the time to mean everything from being overstressed at work to playing hooky because it’s nice out and they don’t feel like going in.

            It’s become a catch all for “I didn’t feeling like working today.” Which is a far cry from depression where you’re getting help and cannot function.

            1. Chinook*

              As someone who has mental health issues (and they go WAY beyond a warped sense of humour), I can say that I have called in sick when I was incapable of functioning at work. I would never call it a “mental health day” because that has the stigma of just wanting to enjoy the sunshine (which may be how I am lifting the dark thoughts but it is so very different from “not feeling like work”).

              1. jesicka309*

                Exactly. I’ve had days where I’ve been too anxious to go to work (like spending all day on the toilet kind of anxious).
                I’m not going to the doctor to get a certificate for THAT, but there’s no way I’m dragging myself into work in that condition. The only way I could make myslef feel better about taking the day off sick was to tell myself that it was a ‘mental health day’. While I didn’t exactly go out partying, I spent the day reading, cuddling my puppy dogs, and dealing with the massive pile of laundry I’d been neglecting.
                Sometimes when you actually do have a mental condition, having a day to deal with the triggers and relax can make a difference for weeks to come. And I shouldn’t have to tell my boss what exact kind of sickness I’m suffering from either.

            2. Anne*

              For me (and, I imagine, others) occasionally taking a sick day for my mental health makes the difference in not NEEDING a diagnosis. Things are hard – I have anxiety issues, and at very stressful times like this, I can find myself crying and breaking down in the morning before work, and scratching and picking at my scalp so much that I have bald spots and told that it’s “self harm”.

              But usually it’s not like that. And I don’t need drugs, or therapy. I just need to be able to take five minutes to cry, call my manager, and then go knit in a coffee shop all day, maybe 2-3 times a year. And the next day I will wear a hat to work.

              Honestly, with the vast numbers of people who suffer from mental health problems at some point in their lives, I find it very hard to believe that my situation and way of coping is at all rare.

      2. V*

        At my work we have a PTO bank for sick and vacation, but there are restrictions on how many “unplanned” days you can take.

        I don’t like the idea of sick vs. vacation, but I do like the concept of personal days. If something last minute comes up or you just don’t want to go to work it’s no one else’s business, but your own.

        As far as people bashing mental health days… Americans work WAY to much. I definitely think throwing in a few mental health days would benefit workers and companies.

        1. mel*

          “mental health days” sound amazing. I don’t have any sick leave at all so on days where I just feel like crying all day, I usually just cry at work all day.

    6. JR*

      I think it really varies by employer and their culture. My employer lets us use sick time for anything. As long as we have our work taken care of for the day, and actually have the time, they really don’t care.

    7. Brittany*

      I love my dog with my entire heart and soul. Moreso than people in my life who are technically considered “family”. So does my fiance. If anything happened to her, we would be right there with her, including taking time off if she was sick or had surgery.

      Comments like yours make me so happy I work for a company that lives and breathes pets. You don’t have to agree with it but respect that people feel differently and are entitled to take their sick time as they see fit as long as they have the time allotted and their work gets completed.

      1. Andrea*

        +1 to all of this. I barely (and by choice) have a relationship with my sister or with any of my (quite numerous) extended family members. I don’t wish them ill, but if they get sick or die, it’s just not really going to affect me. But if anything happens to the family who matters to me, the one I have chosen, which includes my husband, best friend, dog, and three cats? That’s going to turn my world upside down. The love from these canine and feline beings is pure and our bond is important, and it enhances my life. Taking care of them is what I choose to do out of love. Others don’t have to agree, but I’m sure not interested in hearing arguments about how they’re somehow not entitled to receive comfort or care from their guardians when they’re sick or hurting just because they aren’t human, and I don’t think I’d like to know anyone who would make such a claim.

    8. Anonymous*

      I also don’t understand why you care at all. Why does it matter? Assuming they have a limited amount of sick time I don’t get why I shouldn’t be able to use it to take care of my self when I go to the dr, my aunt’s dog, my nephew, or anything. I frankly don’t understand why people get so uptight about the use of sick time. If the person isn’t doing their job, then address that. If the person is doing their job and utilizing the benefits (such as sick time) that are made available to them then why are you so upset about it?

      And if you are why wouldn’t you say that you are only allowed to use sick leave when you are personally sick? Why is one family more important and who decides who is family and who isn’t?

    9. A*

      At my company we are given the option whether or not to have time off taken from our vacation PTO or sick days. It’s not a big deal if employees want to sub one for another.

      Even if that wasn’t case, I’ve never been asked why I’m taking a sick day. While I tend to provide context unnecessarily, it would not be an issue if I called in and said I was taking a sick day when I was tending to a pet.

      Perhaps not the most common thing in the world, but certainly not UNcommon. All but one of the companies I’ve worked for have been the same in this regard.

    10. Karen*

      As a single person with no children it always amazes me that we are constantly discriminated against because we are single. I’m expected to work more hours because I “don’t have family to take care of”. When my last cat was very ill and I needed time off to care for him, my boss had no problem with me using sick time to do so. Max may not have been human, but he was definitely family. Why is that different than if he had been my son? And, really, it’s nobody business how I use my sick time.

      I had a supervisor many years ago who told me it wasn’t her job to determine if I was sick or how I used my time, but it was her job to make sure projects were completed. Next time, take sick leave and don’t explain.

      1. Another Jamie*

        I think a person with a partner and/or children would also want to take care of their sick cat, though. So I don’t see it as discrimination against single people. I’m single and I have no pets. But I get sick enough on my own to use up all my sick days. Honestly, what I don’t understand is people who aren’t sick EVER and don’t use up all of their sick time just on themselves.

    11. Mary*

      I agree with you. Our policy spells out what sick time can be used for and it is definitely not for pets. Sick leave accumulates differently and rolls over to the pension plan, vacation time does not. I allow staff to adjust their schedule or take vacation time for pet care. I had an employee once who told me a week in advance she was using a sick day to paint her DIL’s kitchen. She was not allowed to use that as a sick day. In my world, sick time is for when you or a family member or someone residing in your household is sick. I can honestly say in 16+ years as a manager, I’ve never had this request nor would it occur to me to make this request.

    12. RLS*

      I know people love their pets, but pets are not humans.

      I have to disagree with your point here. Adopted animals are no less important to a family than humans. If the OP felt strongly enough about her dog that she could undergo surgery and commit to the care, you don’t get to dictate that the animal is less important. It’s her family, not yours, and if you were her boss, it still wouldn’t matter. Family is family. Pets are not an adornment, or a trophy, or a status symbol. They are part of the social and emotional culture of the family unit.

      Pets are an entire other species that someone willingly took in to care for and love. The parents know from the outset that a) the pet will not live very long, b) affording healthcare is more complex and c) pets can’t tell you very much when they’re indisposed…but out of unconditional love, we do it anyway. In my “immediate family,” it’s just me and my dog. He doesn’t get to become more ill or suffer more (and possibly die) simply because a work policy says that “only humans” fall under a sick leave plan. Sorry. He’s my kid. If he’s sick, Mom is staying home to take care of him.

    13. Marcella*

      I think it would be ok to use sick leave for service dog. My dog is a hearing dog and has been with me at work since 6 weeks helping me. He’s 12 now.

  3. Anonymous*

    I dislike labeling time off as “sick” or “vacation.” It should be changed to something like unscheduled and scheduled paid time off or general PTO with call out limits. It shouldn’t matter what th time off is for as long as it falls under either of those categories and doesn’t exceed the set limit.

    1. LMW*

      I totally agree. My last two jobs have had “vacation” for pre-planned absences, and “personal” days for illness or emergencies. Plus, a flexible work schedule that allows rearranging hours and working from home. I realize all jobs can’t do this (it’s harder with hourly workers and people who have to be on-site to perform their job), but I really wish more could.

    2. Meg*

      I’ve heard that some companies do this, and I love the idea. An employee gets a certain amount of unscheduled time off, presumably to use for those days when you wake up with a fever, or your kid won’t stop coughing, or a pipe bursts in your kitchen. Scheduled time off can be used for whatever reason you want.

  4. Eric*

    I’ve hardly ever revealed why I will be using sick time. My emails usually read very blandly, “using 2 hours sick time at the end of the day”, or “using a sick day today”

    I know of a few employers that make you justify using sick time, however. I hope I never work for one.

    1. Joanne*

      I work in a medical field (mental health, actually, to go with the above discussion), and we are required by law to report unplanned absences and the symptoms that accompanied them – there’s a huge, unpleasant checklist full of words I still can’t say without giggling. Something about it being used for CDC tracking or some such thing? But that’s the extent that my work cares.

  5. Cathy*

    Why haven’t all companies moved to a combined PTO system?

    I don’t care if you want the day off to fly to Bermuda, put vapor rub on little Johnny’s neck, take Fido to the vet, or stare at your navel lint…you have XX hours of paid time off, knock yourself out.

    1. Sourire*

      Sick leave: unplanned absences that can pop up out of nowhere and generally require one to call out on the same day or with very short notice.

      Vacation time: Planned absences where appropriate coverage can be put into place.

      The distinction between the two may not be important for all types of jobs, but it certainly is for some.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        I agree that there are sometimes reasons to differentiate between planned and unplanned absences, but then perhaps the best way to label the time is as planned and unplanned.

        I think that would eliminate a variety of value judgments about reasons for needing unplanned time while still allowing management to track it for abuse.

        1. Sourire*

          That I do agree with. I think planned versus unplanned, or personal vs vacation is the way to go. I was moreso responding to the idea of one big bank of PTO, which would be problematic for many types of employment.

      2. Jamie*

        Right – I think there should be a PTO bucket which you can use for personal days (emergencies that come up be it illness (yours, kids, or fido’s), broken water heater, etc. and vacation which is planned in advance.

        If you meet your people half way and accommodate their emergencies they are more likely to give you ample notice for vacation time and the things which can be planned for.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          This is exactly what we went to last year and it is awesome!

          I donated 2 weeks sick leave most years, minus a doctor’s visit here and there, while people who called in for a hangnail got 2 more weeks vacay. It punished the honest.

          Now, if I have vacation planned, I fill out the PTO form as soon as I can. If I’m out sick, I call in and fill it out when I get back. Same form. No problems. (We also use the same form for jury duty & bereavement, which do not require you to take PTO. You just check a different box.)

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Excuse the injudicious use of the exclamation point, but dang, it really was one of the best things to happen around here in a long time.

        2. kristinyc*

          We have “My Time,” and we’re allowed to take as many days as we need, for sick/vacation/DMV trips/whatever, as long as our work is getting done and we’re communicating with our manager about it. It’s expected that we’ll probably end up taking 10-20 days per year, but most people end up being on the lower end of that.

          I’ve come in late because I had to take my dog to the vet as an emergency, and it was fine. I was able to work a little bit from home before I could even get to the vet since they didn’t open until 9, and I just came in after the appointment. My dog is part of my family, he was sick, and he needed medical attention. I really don’t see the issue. If an employer is going to be weird about it, I would give them as little information as possible.

          1. Brandy*

            We have “unlimited PTO” too. I’ve taken exactly 1 day so far this year. Last year I took 6 days in a row for a big vacation, and a handfull of long weekends over the summer. Probably not more than 12 days total. I had previously gotten 3 weeks of vacation time + some amount of sick days I never bothered to check because I never used it.

            Then again, I’m taking 13 weeks of maternity leave, 7 of which are going to be PTO. But that is obviously the exception.

            1. katie*

              I understand what you mean but I hope you don’t look down on your direct reports and peers for when they do use their allotted vacation time. It sounds like you’re somewhat ‘proud’ of working without ever taking a break.

              To me it’s the same thing as people who never take a lunch break and look down upon others for when they do take theirs.

              Congrats on the baby though!

              1. Another Jamie*

                I’m glad you said this. Paid time off is part of your compensation. It’s like gloating that you voluntarily took a pay decrease and pointing out that none of your co-workers did.

                When people brag about never taking a sick day or always working late, I always wonder if “being there” is really all they have to offer. Would you put “never took a day off” on a resume?

                (This is ranting over attitudes from specific people I’ve worked with, not directed at Brandy or anyone here.)

                1. myswtghst*

                  And this is (one reason) why we can only roll over 40 hours of PTO each year – to encourage us to use it so we don’t lose it. I’m totally on board with having good attendance, but don’t do it by coming in while you’re sick and stressing yourself out by never taking a vacation – all you’ll do is negatively impact your coworkers.

        3. doreen*

          It kind of depends on the exact situation ,though. I for one hate the idea of one PTO bucket, because I’m certain I would lose a lot if sick time wasn’t distinguished from annual and personal. My sick leave accumulates up to 1500 hours- I don’t know any employer that will allow a vacation liability to accrue like that. When I retire, my accrued sick leave gives me additional pension time. And probably the biggest one- if I exhaust my sick leave due to a fairly serious illness , I get two weeks of sick leave at half pay for each six months of service. Put all the leave in one bucket, and I can guarantee that vacation/personal leave rules will apply. My husband’s employer is not so generous- but they don’t have a preset limit on sick leave, and have paid people for nearly a year when they were out sick. Put it all in one bucket , and they’ll get five days added onto their current vacation if they’re lucky.

          1. Windchime*

            We get a PTO bucket, where a certain number of days (same for everyone, I think it’s three days annually) is deposited for “sick” and the rest (diferent depending upon seniority) is “vacation”, but it’s all just PTO and can be used however I please. Because I’m rarely sick, I just use it all as vacation.

            In addition to that, another amount of days (not sure how much) is deposited each year into a different account called “Extended Illness”. It keeps accumulating until it hits some astronomical upper limit. So if I were sick for more than three days, the first three days would come out of PTO and the subsequent time would come out of my Extended Illness account. That way, people can be sick (or have surgery, or whatever) and not burn through all of their PTO.

            1. KellyK*

              An extended illness bucket is a really useful idea. And having it kick in at 3 days probably prevents a lot of people from dragging in with strep or the flu when they really shouldn’t be, in order to conserve vacation later in the year.

    2. Cat*

      I think this is true if you give people adequate amounts of time. I know a lot of companies that have used this as an excuse to give about the same amount of combined PTO as they used to give either sick or vacation days. The end result is that everyone uses their PTO for vacation and comes to work sick, which then gets everyone else in the office sick; it sets up a bad incentive.

      1. Another English Major*

        We have one pto bucket and nobody seems to do that in my department.

      2. HR Pufnstuf*

        I have not seen that and have worked HR in PTO companies for the past 14 years.

        1. Cat*

          As I said, if you give people adequate amounts of leave, it’s not an issue. If you give people 8 days total (which I’ve seen), then they’re choosing between coming to work sick and not taking off time at the holidays to see their family, which sucks.

      3. Victoria Nonprofit*

        I agree – totally merged pools create weird incentives. I would absolutely come to work sick if taking a PTO day meant I’d have to shorten my vacation.

        1. The IT Manager*

          Me too. I don’t take a few hours vacation off here and there in order to take it in bigger increment to get the most bang for my hours off. If being sick would mean that I’d have less time to take a vacation or visit my family over holidays, then I would definately think twice calling in sick or using sick time for medical appointments.

          I don’t think a single bucket of PTO is a good idea. I do think something other than sick days – personal days is a good thing. Right now crisis with utilities, pets, car trouble, etc all result in me taking vacation time on short notice rather than sick days.

          I am always a fan of a well documented, clearly explained, uniformly enforced policy that doesn’t leave much room for interpretation. A lot of time it’s the various interpretations or non-uniform application of the policy which make employees mad at the unfairness of it.

          1. HR Pufnstuf*

            Whether it’s PTO or Sick Leave or Vacation it’s likely going to be abused/miss-used by the same people no matter the label.

          2. Bwmn*

            In the US, I used to work for a hospital where all of our PTO was lumped in one place and so sick and vacation days were in the same pile. This had the completely ridiculous result of having people showing up to work unless the couldn’t physically move.

            I now work overseas in a country, where by law we have 16 sick days. However, only 2 of those days can be used with no doctor’s note. All other sick days require a doctor’s note. What this leads to, is people having a pretty good relationship with their primary care physician so that if they are sick for just one day (food poisoning, day before a weekend, etc.) they can email or phone in a sick note. Doctor’s for the most part don’t let patients abuse this system – but also if someone’s been sick for 2+ days, it ensures they go to the doctor.

            For the most part, employees have good ongoing relationships with their doctors, and don’t abuse sick days (which are partially monitored by a doctor and not just the employer). In my opinion, this system works far better than what I used to see.

    3. Anonymous*

      If you do all of the above someone should be mildly concerned. But only because the vapo rub really stinks up an airplane.

      I really do wish this were more common. I don’t like that I have to call in sick when I really just want a day off so I don’t burn my sick leave. Just let me schedule a day when I don’t have a lot going on and I can just enjoy it, then you’ll know in advance.

    4. the gold digger*

      In my old job, I didn’t have sick days. I had vacation. If I was sick, which happened one day in the eight years I was there, I didn’t come to work. The expectation was that I would be responsible and that my manager would manage.

      The idea that sick days are a defined, paid benefit that accumulate until you use them, quit, or retire (and then get them paid out) is new to me.

  6. Sourire*

    As far as I know, employers aren’t required to provide sick leave at all (in the US in general, I am not sure if various states/cities have their own laws) other than FMLA which would not count your pet. Therefore, it seems as though it would be up to the individual employer to decide what they will and will not allow sick leave to be used for. To me, this sounds like an ideal use of a “personal day”, if your company has such things.

    I hope your dog has a full and speedy recovery!

  7. Jamie*

    Some employers do. Most don’t. All should.

    And this is why I will be forever jealous of Alison. Wisdom and perfect brevity.

  8. Christine*

    It is no one’s business what your ailment is or whether it’s yours. Does a self induced (!) illness get the same rating as the flu? There are certain privacy rights in play here. And honestly – I’d rather not know about what you did last night. Sick leave should never have to be justified otherwise the employer can begin to diagnose whether or not the illness you claim is really valid or to a degree that is tolerable or not. I agree with the above re: the PTO system. The world has changed – so should our policy. Abusers will reveal themselves in due time.

  9. Wilton Businessman*

    We don’t have “sick days”, we get “personal days”. If you don’t get sick, you can take a couple extra days of vacation. If you have the cable guy coming “from 8-3” then you use a personal day. If you have a sick puppy, you take a personal day.

    1. Lynn*

      We have this system too, and I much prefer it. This way you can make your decision based on business and personal needs, rather than having to decide whether you’re “really” sick or arguing about what “counts” as what. (Bonus: I don’t get sick much –> extra vacation time for me.)

    2. Chinook*

      With a PTO bucket, how does it work if you get paid for unused vacation time but not for unused sick time?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s one of the complaints about PTO buckets. A lot of places don’t pay out at all when you leave. (Others do, of course. And some states, like CA, that require vacation payout when someone leaves will treat the PTO bucket as if it’s all vacation, which is one incentive for employer to not switch to a single bucket in those states.)

        1. Chinook*

          That makes sense. Since Canadian vacation payouts work the same as they do in CA, I always wondered about the PTO buckets and could see them as a huge financial liability for the company. They had that in the government at one time and, if someone was never sick during their career, the civil servant could leave with a year of PTO owing to them. They phased that out, I believe, and not you can accumulate sick leave but it isn’t paid out and you have to use your vacation leave within a certain time frame.

          1. Jamie*

            I’m not in CA but our company will cash out accrued/unused time at the end of the year or when an employee leaves.

            Not letting them roll over keeps the the accrued liability manageable.

            Every place I’ve worked has had a policy of cashing out vacay, so check your handbooks even if you’re not in CA or Canada…because it is a common practice even when not required.

          2. Joanne*

            Every place I’ve ever worked has had a maximum accrual amount – like you are allowed to carry no more than 120 hours of PTO. You have the option to sell some of that back to the company at the end of the year (at a reduced price, of course, something like 60% of your salary) or stop accruing until you use some. Of course, I’ve never let myself get to 4 weeks of PTO without taking any, so I’ve never had that problem.

  10. Steve*

    If she’s exempt why take sick or vacation time at all? If she’s working part of that day, isn’t she supposed to get paid for the full day?

      1. Steve*

        I guess I’m confused on how exempt works. In my current position, I’m exempt and salaried. If I come to work, but leave for any reason (as long as my boss knows and I’m not sneaking out) I am counted as working an entire day. The only time I am “charged” sick leave or vacation time is if I miss the entire day. Maybe this dump isn’t such a bad place to work after all. :-)

        1. Jamie*

          That’s not the case everywhere. Some do it by hours – some by half days. But they can always hit your PTO or vacay bucket even if they can’t dock pay.

          And in many places you won’t take a hit even for whole days if you have enough good will banked up. If you’re flexible with your time when they need you, a good employer will be flexible when you need a little time. Because a good employer will understand that it’s usually the employer who loses out when the nickle and diming starts because most employees deposit far more into the good will bank than they will ever withdraw.

        2. fposte*

          No, you’re right about the pay side, in that they can’t dock your pay. What they can do is require you to use your paid time off. (Which in some situations does eventually financially affect you when it comes to payouts upon separation.) Some places would rather not mess with fractional days, some places only care if it’s a half day, some places are more granular than that. So in that respect, sounds like your workplace is actually pretty decent.

        3. The IT Manager*

          I think you come out ahead this way.

          My vacation/sick leave is earned in hours and can be taken in 15 minute increments.

          I guess it could backfire, though, at a company that only allows vacation time to be taken in whole days, but demands employees take a whole day even if they worked part of the day.

          1. Lynn*

            I’ve worked places that only allowed you to use whole days. With the result that, if you had to do something that took half a day (called up for jury duty but then not selected, for instance), you had no incentive to go in afterward, and you probably technically weren’t allowed to.

        4. glennis*

          My employer’s policy for an exempt worker is you have to put in at least half a day, otherwise you have to take paid time off.

  11. Linda*

    I think that all companies should honor that an animal is indeed a member of your family. Animals have feeling and emotions just like humans. When were sick and in need of aide we rely on those who are stronger to assist us when we are down. I was granted time off to say goodbye to my cat and put him down because he was gravely ill. I cried all afternoon – would i have been productive at work? Hell No! Anyone who owns a dog or cat understands the bond. They ARE a member of your family. I work in an office where most of the bosses have dogs. One dog who is old just had cancer surgery and the boss needed to be away to save his dogs life. So where’s the barrier? If anyone is sick regardless – time should be granted. We may be human, but in the end we are all mammals (if you want to get technical) they should call it a mammal leave of absence.

    1. Sourire*

      While I completely agree with and understand the sentiment, I wonder where the line would get drawn. Just dogs and cats? Does my rabbit count? What about fish? My best (human) friend? I certainly care about her quite a bit. This is why I like the idea of personal time off versus sick time. It eliminates these types of questions.

      1. KayDay*

        I agree, and also good point about friends. While normally I wouldn’t think that friends would fall into a companies sick leave policies, since most of my friends and I are single, if we need a ride home from the hospital, guess who we call?

        1. Chinook*

          “since most of my friends and I are single, if we need a ride home from the hospital, guess who we call?”

          From personal experience I can tell you that there is nothing more depressing than explaining to a nurse that you have to take a cab home after day surgery because there is no one available to drive you. She asked me that question 4 different ways and the answer depressed me more every time I gave it because she didn’t seem to believe that it was possible to have no one to call.

            1. Chinook*

              If I remember right, I don’t think I was ever technically released, but then they were speaking to me in French and I was having a hard time thinking clearly in English. I waited until I was lucid enough to call for a cab and left.

            2. A Bug!*

              To be honest, I don’t blame that nurse, although I sympathize for the inconvenience. When I had dental surgery I was very grateful to have a friend who was able to take me back to her place and keep an eye on me until all the drugs wore off. I can imagine all sorts of liability issues if the nurse can’t be completely certain that you’re not still under the influence of anesthetics.

              (I understand I made it worth my friend’s while in “David After Dentist” fashion, but even today I don’t remember anything for about 24 hours after the surgery.)

      2. saf*

        I have used sick time to take my closest friend to the hospital/dr appointments. My husband has too. And the husband and I have used sick time when the one had surgery or was hospitalized. So has our friend.

        All our birth families are far away, and we are each others’ families here.

  12. Kelly*

    For many single and/or childfree people, their pets are part of their family. Even people with kids who also have pets view the four legged ones are as integral part of the family. I know when one of the cats had surgery, my dad worked from home to keep an eye on her since she wasn’t supposed to climb up and down the stairs due to being declawed and spayed. My mom didn’t have that flexibility and my sister had school so my dad was the only option and his position at the time allowed for working from home. He also took a day off to watch the dog after he had surgery to remove a thorn from his foot, which was my dad’s fault for being too distracted with the blackberry.

    Most of us have had coworkers at one time who use their sick days to care for sick kids and partners. For a fair number of people without kids, their pets are like children and essential members of their family unit in their eyes. I can understand that perspective because they give you their love and affection as long as you care for them. Your time off is yours to do with however you please, whether it’s taking care of an ailing cat, parent, or kid.

    I do think that single and people without kids do bear a greater burden of being expected to be able to work extra hours and less desirable shifts just because “you don’t have a family”. It’s probably an excuse that people who work in hospitals, retail, restaurants, and other near 24/7 jobs have heard. I do feel badly for the people who work at hospitals or other 24/7 jobs like law enforcement dispatch centers because even though they are supposed to work every other or third holiday, most of the people without kids probably get bugged by coworkers with kids to take their holiday shifts.

    I’ve had several coworkers in various jobs who use the fact that they have kids and no time management skills between multiple jobs, kids, and activities to try to guilt me into taking shifts that are less desirable to them. I work retail, so the only guaranteed days off that I have are Christmas, Thanksgiving (not really because of Black Friday), and Easter. I had one coworker who has a 10 year old boy, old enough to watch himself for day IMO, scheduled for Memorial Day. She’s a bit of helicopter parent, partially due to her experiences with her older ones from a prior relationship, and was trying to get me to take her shift. I couldn’t because I had to go into my other job at a law office so I could get some work done without any interruptions. Being able to wear yoga pants to work with no clients around was an added benefit as well.

    1. SarasWhimsy*

      Thank you! As a single person – I’m sicking of hearing ‘do you mind doing…(ridiculous unneccesary crap)….’ on a holiday weekend – ‘you don’t have a family…’

      Uhm, I do have a family, they’re not nearby, so the holiday weekend would be nice so I can travel to visit… AND – who cares if I have a family of children or not. Just because I made different choices in my life doesn’t mean I should always do the extra work!

      1. Heather*

        I have a family – it’s just not xx number of kids and a husband. So they don’t get to tell me that I can’t spend time with my family. :P

    2. LCL*

      Filling the 24/7 shifts on holidays isn’t as hard as one might think. Many people have multiple relatives and exes, and playing the “I have to work card” is a neat way to solve the problem of how to be in more than one place at a time. Of course, you do have to give people plenty of advanced notice for those shifts, but it can be done.

    3. The Snarky B*

      Um, 10 years old is not old enough to be home alone for an entire work day. That’s illegal in some states and ill advised in general. I understand your frustration but that’s really not your call to make.

      1. Anonymous*

        I agree that it’s not the commentor’s call, but I can’t help but point out the irony in your statement. :) Some are, some aren’t, and we shouldn’t be judging from here.

      2. HR Pufnstuf*

        Many 10 years old are perfectly capable of being alone for 8 hours.
        Which (nanny)states make this illegal?

        1. Anonymous*

          I can’t provide a breakdown of states but I know in my state, the law is very vague about when children can officially be left alone. The way the law is worded, it’s ok to leave a child over a certain age (8?) alone, as long as nothing bad happens. If something awful occurs, the child obviously wasn’t old enough to manage on their own, and therefore you can be charged. My kid was one of those who could be left alone at age 10, but it’s been stressful for us to leave him bc the laws are so vague. All we would need to happen is for a neighbor to make a complaint, and we could be in big trouble. We’ve had to balance the times when we leave him with other times when we make an extra effort to supervise him.

      3. Jamie*

        I agree with Snarky B – IMO 10 is too young to be home alone all day. A parent not wanting to do hat certainly doesn’t qualify to be labeled a helicopter parent.

        If there is a 10 year old that had excellent judgement and would never break the rules, leave a stove on, etc. and have the wherewithal to calmly and maturely deal with an emergency should that happen they are certainly the vast exception rather than the rule.

        Needing to arrange supervision for a 10 year old is certainly understandable.

  13. OK Then*

    We have vacation and sick/personal time. This allows our employees to use the “personal” designation for anything such as this.

  14. Deirdre*

    My dog is FAR more family to me than many family members. I like that some companies offer pet insurance too as a benefit. Wish more did.

  15. KayDay*

    This is why it’s nice to have either one bank of PTO or “emergency leave” vs. “planned leave.”

    If people are abusing taking leave at the last minute, that would need to be addressed, but there is no need for people’s offices to start getting into the definition of a family.

    (FWIW, my job currently has separate vacay and sick, and I’ve used my vacation leave when necessary for my cat. But my boss has always been completely reasonable about letting me use it).

  16. Sue*

    At my work, we do not have to tell people what our sick leave is for. Some use it for “mental health days” when it’s sunny out or when they just don’t feel like coming to work or call in “sick” when they’re too hung over to work. I use it when I’m actually sick or very occasionally when I have a pet undergoing medical treatment that causes me to not be able to focus on work. At my company, all of those things are okay because no one abuses it but our HR person really doesn’t want to know WHY we’re calling in sick. A person’s manager would be the one to deal with it if someone’s calling in sick becomes a problem.

  17. Daria*

    I get paid time off, not sick time/vacation time/ etc. I use it for whatever I want- it’s my time. I’ve used it for the following:

    1. Being sick
    2. Taking my pet to the vet.
    3. Vacations
    4. Cranky days (not often- maybe once every few years, but I’ll have a day where I just. can’t. deal.)
    5. Waiting for the plumber/ac guy/roof fixer company
    6. Emergency babysitting of a friend’s kid while she went to a much needed job interview and the sitter flaked out.

    Before I had paid time off, you bet your sweet bippy I’d used sick time to do all of the above. As long as you are not going over your allotted time, I don’t really think it should matter what you are using it for.

  18. B*

    I would absolutely use sick leave to take care of my dog. He is the one that makes me smile, cares for me, and comforts me. Why wouldn’t I want to do the same for him when he is sick? If I was at work I would not be able to concentrate.

    With all that said, I would suggest not telling/asking everyone around you and wondering what their opinion is. Your colleague gave you an idea and your boss approved. That is all that needs to be done.

  19. Amanda H*

    This got me curious about my own company’s official PTO policy (we also differentiate between PTO and vacation) so I double-checked our manual. I’m glad to see that there’s no restriction on how we can use PTO; managers are simply expected to address any apparent abuse or resultant performance issues with employees on a case-by-case basis.

    Elsewhere in our documents, I found that nonexempt employees can use PTO or vacation in cases of inclement weather (I’m exempt so this doesn’t quite apply to me, however) and that employees who wish to observe religious holidays may use PTO or vacation for that day. So yeah, I think PTO can be used for sick pets. (Which does apply to me, because I have a dog, and she is my family.)

    What it boils down to is that I appreciate my company treating adults like adults.

  20. IronMaiden*

    When I was at uni a classmate was allowed a post because her dog died on the day of a crucial exam. I thought it showed great compassion for someone who had fur kids rather than the naked ape type.

  21. Suz*

    I’d love to be able to use sick time for my pets. I have 2 dogs who are seniors and 3 cats so I have several trips to the vet. But I wouldn’t feel right using my sick time for that. Sick days are intended for sick humans, not pets.

  22. The B*

    It should be called emergency time and then we’d all be able to use it s we see fit. When my husband was going to physio and I needed time off to take care of it, they wouldn’t give it to me because I wasn’t sick. That meant I was sick out of my mind and so stressed out because I couldn’t take care of him. I would have been a lot more productive if I could have taken a few days off and taken him to his appointments as opposed to a bundle of nerves sitting at the computer about to have a nervous breakdown.

  23. Anon*

    A former employer allowed me not only to take a combined week off/work at home & had phones and sales covered by another employee while i took care of my sick pup. I was allowed to bring her to the office after that too. :-) ome of the few perks of that job!

        1. Anon*

          I no longer work for that employer and they didn’t have an IT department, but just a single guy who barely knew how to turn a computer on. I left the company in 2010 and they went under earlier this year.

  24. Jamie*

    This whole thing has made me think about how handling PTO (in any form) can really affect how you feel about your work. When humanly possible let people keep their privacy and dignity.

    Case in point – I’m dealing with a medical thing. Nothing tragic, but it needs tending to. My employer couldn’t be more understanding and accommodating – apparently they noticed the banked good will and want me to use that for doctor’s appointments, etc. So when I was told I needed to have iron infusion treatments (once per week done in a chemo center only open M-F 8-4:30) they were awesome. I was told to just worry about myself and get better, etc. I have the time on the books so it’s not an issue to take the next 5-10 Fridays off.

    My husband has to take me, he has MUCH more time on the books than I but they don’t like to do a long series of Fridays so when he told them why he needed to schedule those days it’s FMLA (for him – not me) and now I have to provide paperwork to his work so he can take days he is entitled to and days his Sgt would have happily approved without the paperwork but his hands are tied.

    So my work treats me like a person and is accommodating a rare blip in my attendance history and his work is forcing his boss to treat him like a stranger trying to get away with something even when he knows it’s not the case.

    I can totally see the FMLA paperwork being needed if he didn’t have the time (which he does) or if those days were blocked out for vacay, but they aren’t.

    Yeah – I’ll take the personal style of a family business over governmental bureaucracy any day.

    1. Elizabeth*

      Since your husband is a cop, he most likely works for an entity of local government. Many of us in such entities got raked over the coals about 10 years ago for not enforcing FMLA regulations when employees needed to take 3 days or more of leave to deal with a health issue. My hospital got a stiff warning & a monitoring plan we had to adhere to, including bi-weekly reporting. The county sheriff’s department got a $50K fine for each of several employees who were technically eligible for FMLA for whom the paperwork was not filled out.

      Since then, virtually every entity of government in our state, including every county sheriff’s department and city police force, has been very, very careful about requiring the FMLA paperwork. It isn’t because we think that our people are abusing the system; we’re just playing CYA for another DOL audit.

      1. Jamie*

        Makes total sense and I know I’m just being whiny – but you’re absolutely right. Just something creepy about having to send in notes from my doctors to my husband’s bosses. World’s colliding and all that.

        1. jesicka309*

          I had to get proof of my boyfriend’s surgery in order to get an extension on a Uni assignment (we live together).

          It was awful. Work? Totally cool with me leaving early to get him from the hospital. Uni? Wanted proof that my boyfriend actually lived with me and that he had significant enough surgery to warrant care from me. :( They then complained when the photo of his admittance documents weren’t clear enough (can you scan them please?). And it was incredibly embarrassing to have to ask his doctor for some sort of proof of the surgery as my boyfriend’s lying there waiting for me to take him home. Ugh.

          1. Anonymous*

            In all fairness – you have a motivation to work (you get paid), but plenty of students unfortunately make up excuses for school. Few bad apples and whatnot

            1. Caffeine Queen*

              Yes, but, like with the workplace, you have a sense of which students are slackers and which are hardworking but have hit a crisis. The one who’s never in class, never speaks to you about a problem until the due date where she’s begging for extra credit, with mediocre work at best? Don’t excuse her. The one who’s in your office hours as often as possible, makes stellar grades and lets you know as soon as possible if she foresees a crisis? You’re a jerk for not giving her time off.

              In some cases, one might not be able to take time off work because they might actually need you. A university doesn’t need you. You’re paying them. Yes, you should get the grades you deserve but they have even more of an incentive to be flexible because they’re dependent on cash.

              1. jesicka309*

                It’s online University too, and the assignment was due week 4… I can see where they were coming from in terms of needing proof because they have no way of knowing whether I was a good student or not. But I didn’t have enough time to plan ahead because the assessment was so early in the semester.
                I just found it funny that Uni wanted all kind of proof for a two day extension (which costs them nothing) but work were totally cool when it costs them money.

      2. Jenna*

        I’m just so happy that FMLA is there. When my husband passed away, having a job to go back to after saved my sanity. Paperwork can be a pain, especially since it is sometimes a very low priority for a busy doctor’s office, but having FMLA there is wonderful.

  25. Hannah*

    I am a single woman who can not have children. I have somewhat reconciled this by adopting a dog who I care for as if he was family. I don’t care what days are used but I best be allowed to take time off for him if I needed to.

  26. Kate*

    I’d probably not even address this and only reference it as an ill family member, that’s it. My cats are my children. In my current job sick leave is vacation time (an vice versa) so it wouldn’t matter anyway but if it came down to it I’d rather risk my job than losing one of my little dudes.

  27. Morag*

    If I have to cover for a co-worker who’s sick, whose child is sick, or whose family member is sick, even whose best friend is sick, I might not enjoy it but I’ll do it. It’s just part of the deal, even though it’s sometimes not fair.
    If I have to cover for a co-worker whose pet is sick, I’m just going to be really ticked off.

    1. fposte*

      Unless they take off more than their allotted PTO, though, what does it matter? What if Wakeen takes off only two days a year, both for his dog, and Jane is off for two weeks with sinus stuff? You really think Wakeen shouldn’t even be allowed those two days? Would you mind less if he was out on vacation days rather than sick days? And why would you as a co-worker even know which he took them as?

      I think that kind of frustration mostly comes when you have a workplace that interrogates your reasons to be off, or when you’ve got management that isn’t evenly backing everybody’s right to flexibility and everybody’s responsibility to handle it like an adult. In cases where one employee walks on water and you can’t even get permission to take Friday to go to your uncle’s funeral, that’s definitely going to cause that reaction, but if the workplace is flexible with you taking off for your thing, it seems only fair that the people who covered for you then get covered when they’re out for their thing.

      1. Morag*

        Because sick leave is for unplanned absences and it leaves your co-workers in a scramble to cover your work as well as doing their own jobs. If you decide to have a pet, you are responsible for its care and should not shift that responsibility onto others. It takes a village to raise a child and we are all socially responsible to care for each other – but not for other’s pets. If your pet is so sick you have to stay home with it, and can’t afford to pay someone else to care for it, it’s time to put it down.

        1. KellyK*

          If we’re socially responsible for each other, we’re socially responsible for each other’s emotional well-being, too. Which pets are a huge part of for many people.

          If your pet is so sick you have to stay home with it, and can’t afford to pay someone else to care for it, it’s time to put it down.

          I’m confused as to how it becomes easier for you to cover for me while I’m at the vet having my sick dog put to sleep (and probably sick with grief for the next couple days because I shouldn’t have had to) than when I’m home with the dog because she’s sick.

        2. Chinook*

          Morag, I agree with you in some ways that my dog is not my child but he is still my responsibility. Even if it was time to put him down, I would still have to take the day off because it is hard to get to a vet outside of my work hours (and the one that I do have will not put an animal down because it is an inconvinience). And, if I do wake up one morning to find my dog dead, I would have to take the day off to dispose of the body because I live in the apartment and I think the smell might cause a complaint.

          In other words, even those of us who do not see our pets as children may still have to take an unplanned day off because we are dealing with living organisms that do not get sick/die according to our schedules.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If your pet is so sick you have to stay home with it, and can’t afford to pay someone else to care for it, it’s time to put it down.

          That’s ridiculous. If an employer offers a benefit to stay home with those who need your care, and you have the sick time accrued to do it, suggesting that you euthanize an animal instead is absurd and pretty callous.

      2. Morag*

        Sorry, to answer your question, it seems obvious to me that Jane needs sick leave for two weeks because she’s, you know, sick. Wakeen doesn’t need sick leave for two days for his dog, because, you know, it’s a dog.

    2. Andre*

      If you don’t have compassion for what other people care about don’t be surprised when others don’t show you compassion. I would do anything for my dog. She is the best gift in the world!

      1. Morag*

        Andre, I do have compassion for other people and I don’t expect others to have compassion for me, but rejoice and am thankful when they do. I just would like people with pets to keep some perspective that the rest of the world is not obligated to share in and cater to their feelings about their pets.

        1. KellyK*

          Covering for someone who needs to miss work isn’t “catering to their feelings,” though. It’s part of any job.

          Unless you never take a day that inconveniences anyone else, it’s hypocritical to deem someone else’s reasons “not good enough.” Have a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day for something non-life-threatening? Stay home with a sick pre-teen who can more or less care for themselves? Take two days for a bad cold instead of just one or none? That all inconveniences your coworkers, possibly for reasons that they might not find sufficient.

  28. Joey*

    This is why its completely ridiculous for employers to worry about why someone needs to be off. It has no bearing on whether or not the company can operationally afford the absence.

  29. Nelly*

    I took a bereavement day a couple of weeks ago when my cat died. Just said ‘death in the family’.

    I have no guilt – it’s the second time I’ve had a day off in two and a half years (the first because of concussion), and I hate taking leave (I’m a serious leave liability right now), so they can give me a day off for that. I couldn’t work, they wouldn’t have wanted me at work with the state I was in, and exactly who in my family died is no one’s business but my own.

    1. Windchime*

      I’m so sorry for your loss. I lost my ancient old cat last year and it was heartbreaking. Please take care.

  30. Job seeker*

    I did this once. When I first got married my husband gave me a little poodle for my Christmas present. We got transferred to another town and I got a new job there. Our little dog got sick and I called in and told them I was staying home with him. They understood, he was my first little baby. Even before our three children, Coco was my little baby.

  31. Natalie*

    I took time off when my brother and I had to have our childhood dog euthanized. For the life of me I cannot remember if it was vacation or sick time, but I do remember that no one in my office even batted an eye when I asked to leave early with about an hour’s notice. I guess that’s the plus of working in an office of dog owners.

  32. mel*

    I understand the need!

    It’s odd that it’s okay to take sick leave when a person has the common cold, but not when an animal requires emergency care that could mean the difference between life and death. I would personally be very upset if my employers decided for me whether or not a job is worth watching an animal die on my floor. How can a person work efficiently while wondering if their precious pet is dying in agony at that moment?

    I’m totally biased, since I do have a cat who has chronic urinary blockages. The last time was very sudden. One moment, he is experiencing painful urination and crying. An hour later, he is convulsing on the floor, unable to stand up, moments away from organs bursting. My spouse left work early for the trip to the hospital and I am very glad he has such flexibility!

    Hospital trips with a poorly-behaved cat are NIGHTMARES! They stab him violently with needles then push urine and blood out of him. It’s the most traumatizing thing I wish I will never have to go through ever again, and it irks me that this could somehow be less “valid” than a child with a headcold. :(

    1. KellyK*

      Yeah, you make a good point about the severity. If you have kids and/or pets with major illnesses, you’re probably not taking off for every cold or headache, because you have to save those days. But it’s silly to prioritize a minor illness over an emergency just because the family member with the minor illness is human. In much the same way it’s silly to not let someone use sick time to care for a significant other after surgery, but to not bat an eye at their doing the same thing for a spouse with the flu.

  33. BCW*

    Haven’t gone through all of the posts yet, but I guess here is where I’m torn. I don’t have any pets, however I personally have no problem whatsoever with people using sick time for them. I also have no problem with people using sick time for “mental health” days, hangover days, or the weather is nice and I want to go to the beach days. I see sick days as being yours to use how and when you like. If you use them all up for fun or self imposed sickness, then you really get sick and need to use vacation or take an unpaid day, thats on you.

    I think the problem comes though is that so many people do want to make this distinctions of what is and isn’t acceptable for a sick day. Many people don’t consider being hungover from your birthday the night before as a “valid” reason to call in sick (even if you are throwing up) because you did it to yourself. When you start getting into what is and isn’t valid, then everything becomes a judgment call. Is a sig other ok for you to take a sick day or no? Is a broken down car a valid reason? Do you make a differentiation between your dog and your goldfish on what is and isn’t ok? I think people in general need to just accept that when people take a sick day, they can be doing what they want, and MYOB

  34. Beth Anne*

    I think one of the best things my moms last job was they just combined all sick pay and vacation day to 20 days a year or something. That way it didn’t matter what kind of pay you used. Made things a lot easier.

  35. Steve R.*

    My employer doesn’t ask why we’re using our sick time. I don’t think we’re supposed to use it to care for sick pets. But I would anyway, if it was my dog. Also, I wouldn’t hire anyone who wasn’t smart enough to lie to me about using his sick time to take care of his dog. If that’s what you’re doing, at least have sense enough not to tell me about it. OK?

  36. Brooke*

    If my co workers can take multiple days off a year because their kid is sick, I should be able to take a day off once because my cat needs to go to the vet.

  37. SR*

    In a unionized environment, the definition around what is sick time and what is not sick time should be part of your collective agreement. I am not familiar with a collective agreement that has med leave to look after pets. Some do have family med. leave to look after other family members. The existence of a family med. leave in a contract indicates that if pet med. leave had been agreed to then it would be in the collective agreement.. Your entitlement to the sick leave is limited to the understanding of what sick leave is in the minds of those who negotiated the agreement. The benefit only exists when you meet that definition. For example I have vision care in my contract. I get 200 every two years to help cover prescription glasses. I do not get the 200 hundred if I want to spend it on non prescription sunglasses. Access to the sick leave benefit is limited to the agreed upon understanding with your employer.

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