The people behind Scottish craft ale brewery Brewdog’s press release last month must be pretty pleased with themselves. On 13 February, the brewers and purveyors of a hipster favourite ale announced to the world that they would be offering their employees one week’s paid leave if they adopt a puppy or rescue a dog. Within days the story had been covered by news organisations around the world, including ITV, CNN, The Sun and USA Today.
As well as being a light good news story, Brewdog’s announcement highlights that employers can offer an array of different types of leave, even outside the statutory framework. For example, many employers offer paid volunteering days, additional time off for religious observance or personal development days. Such additional leave can be a great additional incentive to recruitment and programmes to improve diversity. However, employers should be aware of not alienating employees by providing leave to some rather than others. I’m sure there may be some disgruntled cat owners working for Brewdog (where are their caternity rights?) – as well as the thorny question as to whether extra time off for religious observance is discriminatory against atheists (a more legally significant issue given that a lack of religious belief falls within the definition of religion for the purposes of the Equality Act). When introducing new policies such as this, it is sensible to carry out an equality assessment to ensure that no groups with a protected characteristic are disadvantaged (for more, see our blog on how Network Rail came unstuck when it refused to pay a male employee the same rate as his wife, also employed by Network Rail, during shared parental leave).
The story also highlights the positive public image that can be promoted for an employer which goes over and above what is legally necessary in relation to leave. As well as trumpeting their pawternity leave, Brewdog was at pains to point out in its press release that it also offers enhanced maternity and paternity pay. To be fair, it would have been fairly embarrassing if they were more favourable to four-legged than two-legged friends.
Finally, are there any plans to increase the statutory opportunities to take leave? In this regard, I think it’s unlikely that the government is going to legislate for leave to look after dogs (or other pets) any time soon. The government does have plans to extend shared parental leave and pay to grandparents but a consultation on this was delayed before the EU referendum and has not been resurrected. In any event, with only 5% of new fathers taking advantage of the current regime on shared parental leave (according to recent statistics from the CIPD), it seems there is still work to be done on embedding the statutory rights that are already available.