Though still a fairly new concept, pet benefits are becoming a more common consideration when employers are expanding their offerings and looking to stand out.
In August 2022, Talk Shop Media introduced a ‘pawrental’ leave policy, which allows employees to take time off around the adoption of a new pet to focus on ownership duties, bond with their new fur babies and get them settled.
The policy originated from conversations with employees to find out what was important to them, says Katie Stevens, the media company’s managing partner, noting the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive since it was introduced.
Employees who have worked at the company for at least one year are eligible for three consecutive days of paid pawrental leave per calendar year. An additional two consecutive days of un-paid pawrental leave can be provided at the discretion of supervisors.
“Taking a look at our employee base, we’ve noticed that, over the years, families have started to take different shapes and forms,” says Stevens. “Some of our employees aren’t necessarily going the traditional family route, but they have other priorities that often include adopting a pet. We’ve always strived to provide a supportive parental leave policy, so we wanted to ensure we were offering the same level of support to employees who might choose to go a different route by adding a four-legged friend.”
How to offer pet benefits
Recently, Stevens has heard more conversations about pet benefits, mainly within companies that are focused on workplace culture and are looking to offer less traditional forms of support.
Gianna Ricciardi, partner and practice leader at consulting firm Vita Assure, has also seen an increase in employer questions related to pet benefits. “I’d say, maybe in the last five years, I’m getting more questions from employers in terms of, ‘Is this something we can offer?’ and ‘How would we go about it?’
“I think employers are really looking to differentiate themselves, given how competitive it is out there. In terms of trying to get new talent, they’re looking to benefits as a way to boost their brand and their total rewards program.”
To offer pet benefits, employers can provide access through payroll deductions or by providing discounts on products and unique types of insurance, says Ricciardi. “The reason why people sometimes don’t end up going [with the insurance] is, generally, pet insurance doesn’t include routine care and that’s a big chunk of the expense for pet owners — the regular checkups, the vaccinations, the routine exam. Pet insurance would only cover things related to your pet actually getting sick or needing surgery or medication.”
A more flexible option is for employers to provide funding through a personal spending or wellness account, she says. “The money can be used to reimburse a bill from the vet or to reimburse pet insurance if you purchase the insurance on your own. I think what employers like about going this route is that it meets the needs of pet owners, but it also meets the needs of other employees who might not have pets. Those types of allowances can be used for a wide variety of needs so everyone feels supported.”
Employers can also offer resources and education on pet ownership, whether through an employee assistance program or more personalized means, adds Ricciardi.
When it comes to adding a perk like pet benefits, it’s crucial for employers to have a clear policy that spells out the specific details, says Stevens, especially when new employees go through the onboarding process and have so much information to retain.
When Talk Shop Media employees take a parental leave of any kind, the organization does its best to demonstrate unbridled support, she notes, adding it’s important to champion usage and uptake at the leadership level. “One of the things we’ve tried to be mindful of over the years is understanding a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer sufficient. That extends to our policies and to the flexibility we try to build in the workplace.”
The company applies a diversity, equity and inclusion lens when it comes to time-off requirements or needs around various cultural events and holidays. Stevens says the pawrental leave policy was created through that lens to ensure every type of family is included.
The policy also takes into consideration the fact that it’s becoming more and more expensive to have a family. “We’re finding some of our generation Z and younger employees are choosing not to go that route — or [at least] not for now. We want to make sure it’s not only the employees who are choosing to have traditional families who are eligible for that level of support.”
Sadie Janes is an associate editor at Benefits Canada.