Very suddenly, my boyfriend found out yesterday that his cat most likely has cancer. She's about 10 years old, lost almost half her body weight in the last 1.5 weeks. The vet wants him to return to the office Monday for more testing to confirm and talk about options and says surgery would be a waste of time/money.

The problem comes that he has work on Monday (full time, paid salary) at his fairly new job (less than a year). He very much wants to be with his cat. I told him to tell work he can't come in.

What should my boyfriend do in order to figure out if it's appropriate to take sick time off for his pet?

Update: Thank you all for your input, he reached out to his manager yesterday and got the time off (what "bucket" I'm not sure). Unfortunately the cat passed before we woke up this morning. At least we have the day

  • 2
    There are two issues: Whether he has the right to call out for a sick pet, which is a legal question, and whether his employer will allow him to take time off, which is an employer policy question. I think he should explain the situation to his manager, and see what happens. Mar 26 '17 at 15:38
  • 1
    In addition to what @PatriciaShanahan said you can also ask whether taking (emergency) time off to care for a pet is professional or not though there too the general answer is "usually, but it depends". The way your question is currently worded makes it off-topic here though.
    – Lilienthal
    Mar 26 '17 at 15:59
  • 1
    Just as a note, culture varies hugely by industry on this. If you work in an ER you'd need to find someone to cover your shift or go into work if skipping a shift could put human lives at risk, while if you are an accountant or programmer you can probably just let the boss know you won't be in on Monday and no one will bat an eye. Retail and food often has a prevailing culture of either being understanding or intentionally imposing and unpleasant, and varies heavily on your supervisor. In other words, YMMV
    – BrianH
    Mar 26 '17 at 20:30
  • Anyone can call out for anything. The question you want to ask is "What will the consequences of calling out for a sick pet be?", and that's a question we can't answer without knowing what the culture at his place of work is. It really depends on how sympathetic his employer is. Mar 27 '17 at 13:41
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    @JoeStrazzere well a cat that slept beside him almost every night for 10 years, naturally he might need some time to grieve. What I meant by the statement, however, was more that we have time to deal with the remains.
    – user71118
    Mar 27 '17 at 14:47

In my experience, you may have different buckets for leave - sick leave, vacation leave, personal leave, and floating holidays. Some companies may not have some buckets at all, some may combine them in different ways (including into a single time-off bucket). There also may be rules to accruing time off and what you can do if you don't have sufficient time in the appropriate bucket.

I believe that it would be unprofessional to use sick leave. Although the cat is sick, in my experiences this is meant for things that matter to the health and wellness of people. Some companies limit it to the employee using the sick time, while others say that it can be used for significant others or children or even some close relatives. It may or may not include doctors appointments. However, I've never seen it stated that it can be used for pets and I don't think that is the intention behind having it.

Some kind of personal time, vacation time, or floating holiday would be most appropriate. How to use them comes to company policies on requesting this time off.

The best thing to do would be to email the boss as soon as possible and request the time. If he knows the policies for taking the appropriate time off (anything other than the policies for what to do when he is sick), he should follow those policies. Ideally, during the company on-boarding, there should be instructions on what to do if you need to take time off on short notice for something beyond control.


If it is important to the cat owner, he should not frame it as "asking for permission" to take time off to get veterinary care for his cat. He should just state to the employer that he is going to make an emergency visit to the vet on Monday.

I say that because if this is brought up as a request to the employer, that immediately downgrades the urgency of the matter.

The only question for the employer should simply be which time-off "bucket" to use, or at worst, what can the cat owner do to make up for the lost time (if the employer decides to be absurdly harsh and deny time off).

  • 11
    @DJClayworth, it absolutely is reasonable and honest if "no" cannot be taken as an answer.
    – teego1967
    Mar 26 '17 at 18:26
  • 2
    If he is prepared to sacrifice his job to get the day off, then he should do it. Mar 26 '17 at 18:39
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    Getting fired for something like that would be HIGHLY UNLIKELY for a salaried employee in good standing. It would require a comically vindictive employer.
    – teego1967
    Mar 26 '17 at 18:46
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    Not everything has to be put as a formal request or demand. There is a lot of gray area in communications. It should be stated as a question, but worded appropriately to show he really needs to take time off. Mar 26 '17 at 19:48
  • 2
    @Chan-HoSuh, I agree, there's an element of tact here.
    – teego1967
    Mar 27 '17 at 10:50

Whether or not your boyfriends boss/coworkers/reports would see this as an acceptable reason for taking time off is irrelevant. PTO (i.e. paid sick, vacation, and/or personal time) is a part of the salary/benefits package and your boyfriend is likely entitled to use his time in whatever way he wishes (depending on local laws, of course), regardless of whether that is taking care of his cat, going to the doctor for his own health, or going to Burning Man. Some companies have policies about using sick time specifically - like needing a doctors note. If that's the case, then it wouldn't be appropriate to use sick time specifically, but instead your boyfriend would need to use vacation or personal time.

I'm assuming this is paid sick time and also that there aren't any weird rules about needing a doctors note or anything, because you state it's a full time salaried job and don't mention any applicable rules/policies.

Typically people don't ask permission to use their PTO for a specific purpose, they instead clear the date. Usually the exchange goes like this: Hey boss, I'm going to be out of the office on Monday. I don't have any meetings on my calendar or projects due, so let me know if there's anything you can think of that needs to get done before then.

If this is short notice (say it's Saturday and your boyfriend needs to take Monday off) he might send his boss an email (or text/call if that's the kind of relationship they have) either early Monday morning or over the weekend and say something like "Hi Boss, I need to use one of my sick (or personal/vacation) days today. Apologies for the short notice." Some people think that making themselves available by email or phone will makes things easier - that might apply to your boyfriend depending on his job.

Personally, my office is very accommodating of my dog appointments (although I made it pretty clear while I was interviewing that my pup is #1) and my boss doesn't care if I use vacation, sick, or personal time interchangeably. I imagine, for someone who has a child/pet/other life thing that matters deeply to them, any place worth working will be understanding of the fact that having a pet/child/etc. sometimes means taking time off to care for them.

  • 1
    PTO can be used for anything, but most companies require some sort of advance notice. This question asks about a case where advance notice isn't practical -- it's a weekend and the employee needs to be out on Monday. This wouldn't be a problem with my employer either, but if I were, say, a service provider who couldn't be quickly replaced and who'd leave clients hanging, that'd be different. Mar 26 '17 at 19:38
  • "I imagine any place worth working has similar views." -- There are a lot of places "worth working [at]" that do not have as liberal a benefits usage policy as yours. The places I've been at have been pretty generous about the different buckets of PTO they allot, but certainly they expect you to specify which bucket you are using and an explanation to your manager. Mar 26 '17 at 20:01
  • @JoeStrazzere if the sick time is paid it is quite literally "paid time off".
    – LMGagne
    Mar 27 '17 at 14:59
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    @JoeStrazzere The first line of that page says the following: "Paid time off or personal time off (PTO) is a policy in some employee handbooks that provides a bank of hours in which the employer pools sick days, vacation days, and personal days that allows employees to use as the need or desire arises. " Then the first line of the 2nd paragraph: "PTO hours cover everything from planned vacations to sick days"
    – LMGagne
    Mar 27 '17 at 15:15

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