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Employment bloggers barking over family leave for Fido

October 17th, 2011  |  Joy Waltemath

Now trending on the employment blogs is legislation introduced in Florida that would include violence against a family pet within the definition of domestic violence. Several bloggers have had some fun (and some puns) over the idea that this legislation, which is not expected to pass, would require employers to provide “a leave of absence to care for your pet.” “Doggone-it: Must employers give leave to employees with hurt pets?” is the title of another blog.

We enjoy as much as anyone exposing the amazing antics of state legislatures; at the state level, this year’s legislative adventures have been quite the romp through the dog park. But with respect to this particular piece of introduced legislation, we think bloggers are barking up the wrong tree.

Under Florida’s domestic violence statute, Sec. 741.313, leave can be granted to employees only if they have already exhausted “all annual or vacation leave, personal leave, and sick leave, if applicable, which is available to the employee, unless the employer waives this requirement.” Moreover, leave is available under the law only if the employee takes leave to:

(1) Seek an injunction for protection against domestic violence or an injunction for protection in cases of repeat violence, dating violence, or sexual violence;

(2) Obtain medical care or mental health counseling, or both, for the employee or a family or household member to address physical or psychological injuries resulting from the act of domestic violence or sexual violence;

(3) Obtain services from a victim-services organization, including, but not limited to, a domestic violence shelter or program or a rape crisis center as a result of the act of domestic violence or sexual violence;

(4) Make the employee’s home secure from the perpetrator of the domestic violence or sexual violence or to seek new housing to escape the perpetrator; or

(5) Seek legal assistance in addressing issues arising from the act of domestic violence or sexual violence or to attend and prepare for court-related proceedings arising from the act of domestic violence or sexual violence. 

We’ll grant that maybe an employee could qualify for leave to take an injured pet to the vet under this provision. But domestic violence and violence against animals appear to be truly connected—According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, “the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence conducted its own study in which 85.4 percent of women and 63.0 percent of children reported incidents of pet abuse after arriving at domestic violence shelters. Women who do seek safety at shelters are nearly 11 times more likely to report that their partner has hurt or killed their animals than women who have not experienced domestic abuse.”  By taking a categorically dismissive attitude towards domestic violence leave under circumstances of animal abuse—which we don’t believe is required by any state as yet—we might be unfairly relegating this legislation to the doghouse.