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Helping You Navigate Workplace Issues in California

A Hairy Question: Can I Take a Medical Leave for My Pet’s Illness?

For numerous employees in Florida, caring for a sick pet can be just as important as caring for an ill family member. Indeed, for many of us, we consider our pets to be part of the family. But does the law agree? If your employer is big enough to qualify for coverage, does the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allow you to take time off from work for your pet’s illness? What are an employee’s rights in this situation?

According to an article from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), this is a question that employees often ask, and the answer to the question is not a simple one. To better understand, we should take a closer look at the FMLA and the terms under which an employee can take time off from work without risking the security of their job.

The FMLA Does Not Allow Time Off to Care for a Sick Pet

The Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law which allows eligible employees working for employers of a certain size (more than 50 employees within a 75 mile radius) to take unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. Under the FMLA, the employee’s job should be protected while the employee is on leave as well as the continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.

While the FMLA allows employees to take time off from work for their own serious medical condition or that of a family member, the FMLA does not permit an employee to take time off from work to provide care for a pet that needs medical attention – even though many of us may consider our pets as a member o our family.

When an employee is covered by the FMLA, they can take 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period in the following situations related to family and medical issues:

  • Giving birth to a child and taking leave to care for the newborn child within a year of its birth;
  • Adopting or providing foster care for a child and taking leave to care for the newly placed child within a year of the placement;
  • Caring for a spouse, child, and/or parent that has a serious health condition;
  • Needing time due to a serious health condition of the employee that prevents her from performing her essential job functions; and
  • Needing time for “any qualifying exigency” related to the employee’s spouse, child, or parent being on “covered active duty” in the military.

In some cases, an employee can take 26 workweeks of leave if it involves caring for a “covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness.”

As you can see, pets do not make the list as part of protected leave under FMLA.

Employee Bereavement and Depression

But is leave for the death of a pet any different?

Under Florida law, employers in the private sector do not have to provide employees any time off for bereavement, and state employees only are permitted two days of administrative leave with pay with a spouse, parent, grandparent, child, or sibling dies. In short, laws related to bereavement cannot help if you need time off for a pet that got sick and passed away.

While there are no Florida laws which would allow for work-leave for the illness or death of a pet, the situation may be different if the employee themselves is suffering from their own medical condition, such as depression or anxiety, even if caused by the death or illness of a pet.  For example, if an employee becomes depressed as a result of a pet’s illness, they may be eligible for time off under the FMLA if the depression could be classified as a “serious health condition” that prevents them from performing the essential functions of her job. Similarly, an employee’s depression could make them eligible for coverage under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA), which may provide for the imposition of a reasonable accommodation for the employee’s illness. Under the ADA and/or FCRA, when an employee makes a request for an accommodation due to a disability or handicap (such as depression or anxiety), an employer is obligated to engage in a good faith, interactive process to determine whether the accommodation can be fulfilled. The employer is only obligated to fufill an accommodation if it is reasonable and does not cause an undue burden on the employer. Such accommodations for depression could or may include an accommodation to have a flexible work schedule or remote employment opportunities.

Contact an Employment Attorney

What is the takeaway? In Florida, it is unlikely that an employee is legally entitled to leave for the illness or death of a pet. While some employers in Florida may generously provide the leave for the specific purpose of caring for a pet, despite not being legally required to do so, they are not required to do so.  However, the situation may be different if the employee themselves is suffering from a serious medical condition or disability, even if it is a result of their pet’s illness or death. If you have questions about employee rights or leave from employment in general, an experienced employment lawyer can help. Contact Scott • Wagner and Associates for more information.

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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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