How the evolution of employee leave from paternity to pawternity affects the HR function

Legislation regulating employee leave continues to adapt to socio-economic developments and has a direct impact on this HR function. While the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) offers clear guidelines, employers also need to be aware of emerging trends among progressive businesses, the latest being pawternity leave.

As the name suggests, pawternity or furternity leave is the offer of time off to be with a new pet, says Nicol Myburgh, Head of HR Business Unit at HR and HE CRS Technologies. This is not a statutory form of leave and falls within the category of unregulated leave offered at the employer’s discretion.

“It is important for employers to know that they don’t have to wait for legislation to come into effect in order to implement pawternity leave; employers may choose to offer ten hours or three days per year, or even more. It is entirely at their discretion,” explains Myburgh.

He notes that if employers wish to implement pawternity leave in their company, a policy must be formulated that includes the amount of leave days offered, the qualifying criteria (e.g. sick pet or adoption of a new pet), and the burden of proof required (e.g. vet’s note for a sick pet and a breeder’s certificate for a new pet).

“Again, it is up to the employer to decide what criteria to apply, Myburgh adds.

While implementing pawternity leave could lead to happier employees (knowing that the company cares), Myburgh points out that the risk – and potential cost to the company – is that it is open to abuse and must be closely monitored, although this is not easy.

Employers are generally free to offer staff various types of leave not covered by legislation but recognised and governed by company policy and contracts. This ‘other leave’ is not a right and ought to be seen as a privilege.

Myburgh distinguishes between leave covered by the BCEA, which includes annual, sick, family responsibility, and maternity leave, and non-statutory ‘other leave’ such as study, cultural, and now pawternity leave.

Prior to approving ‘other leave’ types, companies should weigh the business risk against operational requirements and the number of staff members needed to achieve operational goals.

“For instance, if an employee takes leave that keeps him/her away from the office for a long period of time, like sabbatical leave, the employer should determine whether the employee’s absence will negatively impact the business operations,” Myburgh explains.

Paid maternity leave not compulsory

The BCEA gives pregnant workers the right to take maternity leave, but it is up to the employer to decide whether to offer compensation while the employee is on leave.

The Unemployment Insurance Act and Unemployment Insurance Contributions Act apply to all employers and workers, but not to those who work less than 24 hours a month for an employer. Nor does it apply to learners, public servants, foreigners working on contract, workers who receive a monthly state (old age) pension, or workers earning commission only.

According to South African labour legislation, a permanent employee is entitled to several benefits when that employee is unable to continue employment owing to pregnancy:

  • Four consecutive months’ maternity leave, which can be taken from four weeks before the expected date of birth, or on a date specified by a medical practitioner or midwife.
  • The employee may not return to work for at least six weeks following the birth of the baby, unless the medical practitioner or midwife says she is fit to do so. The same applies in the event of a miscarriage or stillbirth.

“While maternity leave is mandatory, employers are under no obligation to offer compensation while an employee is on maternity leave,” says Myburgh.

“Employers may, however, at their discretion, offer a percentage of the employee’s salary. The current trend is to offer no compensation, but to continue with pension, medical aid and other company benefits. Employers may also choose to enter into a payback contract with the employee regarding the above – either as instalments over a specified monthly period, or as an obligation of service for a specific period.”