Woman wins right to legally use sick leave to care for dog

The Italian librarian has won the right from her employer to use family sick leave to care for her ailing pet instead of having to use vacation days, posing with her dog Cucciola in a park in Rome. (Str/ANSA via AP)
The Italian librarian has won the right from her employer to use family sick leave to care for her ailing pet instead of having to use vacation days, posing with her dog Cucciola in a park in Rome. (Str/ANSA via AP)
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An Italian woman has won a legal battle to take paid leave to care for her poorly pet.

In what being hailed as a landmark case in a country renowned for its love of animals, the academic has secured the right to claim sick pay for time she took off work in order to look after her dog.

The 53-year-old woman, who works at Rome’s La Sapienza University, had taken two days off to care for Cucciola, her English setter, after she became unwell.

She adopted the dog after finding her abandoned in a park in the Italian capital, and now considers her part of her family.

However, the 12-year-old animal fell ill earlier this year, and had to have a tumour removed from her breast in February. Three months later, she underwent treatment for laryngeal paralysis, a disease affecting the throat which restricts an animal’s ability to eat , bark, and breathe.

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The woman asked the university to grant her paid leave in order to take Cucciola to the vet, but her request was rejected, prompting the unusual legal action. Now, a judge has accepted the woman’s argument that the university should put the absence down to “serious or family personal reasons”.

The librarian, who has not been named, brought the case against her employers with the help of lawyers from Italy’s Anti-Vivisection League (LAV), the country’s leading animal advocacy group.

They pointed to a provision in Italian law which says people who abandon an animal to “grave suffering” can be jailed for a year and fined up to £9,000.

Speaking afterwards to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Cucciola’s owner said: “I’m very pleased. After my battle other people will be able to take care of their pets without using up their holiday.” She added that Cucciola is recovering well.

Gianluca Felicette, president of the LAV, said anyone who obtains a vet’s certificate should enjoy the same benefit, citing Cucciola’s case as a defining moment.

He said: “It is a significant step forward that recognised that animals that are not kept for financial gain or their working ability are effectively members of the family. Now, those in the same situation will be able to cite this important precedent.”

Pete Wedderburn, the veterinary surgeon and journalist, welcomed the ruling. He said: “Pets are part of the family, so surely you deserve time off work if they fall ill and need your care.”

Kate Palmer, head of advisory at Peninsula, an employment law consultancy, said that in the UK, pets are not included within the statutory definition that entitles employees to pair or unpaid lave.

But she stressed that many firms would adopt a reasonable approach in the event of emergencies, explaining: “Although there isn’t a legal entitlement to time off, most employers will be understanding and compassionate in these circumstances.”