Best Friends introduces paid family leave benefit

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Two people sitting outside with a happy dog between them
By Julie Castle Photos by Lori Fusaro

I talk about the importance of culture a lot. When I was first seated as CEO, I made culture one of my key focus points. The Best Friends culture was already something we were proud of, but it’s also something we’ll never be “done” with, so it can always improve. I believed then (as I do now) that our people needed to not only be prioritized, but feel it. So for the last four years, I’ve worked with our senior leadership, our board and our founders to continue chipping away at culture improvement, day in and day out.

That’s why I’m so happy to share that this week we implemented our paid family leave program. The logic behind adopting paid family leave feels obvious, but it can be difficult to implement, and I want to acknowledge those hurdles. It’s tough to make paid family leave happen, namely due to the resource and budget constraints that are especially challenging for nonprofit organizations, which have fewer resources than for-profit companies. We also live in a country where unpaid leave is the norm, as federally, the only employee family leave protection is unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Without paid family leave, if you had to take time off work for personal medical reasons or to care for a spouse, child or parent, FMLA only ensures that you have a job to come back to. It doesn’t cover your pay, and that’s a barrier for so many people. For example, in 2021 only 23% of private company employees had access to paid family leave. It’s just not the norm, but we knew this was a benefit that our people needed. And since we’ve never shied away from challenging the status quo, it was on us to make it happen.

This program allows our full-time staff to take 12 paid weeks off in order to bond with a newly born or adopted child, deal with circumstances related to a family member’s military service, or take care of a seriously ill family member. I know firsthand how meaningful it is to be there for family when someone is sick. When I was battling advanced stage cancer (before we offered paid family leave), having my people there for me and with me was everything. I honestly don’t know how I could have made it without them.

Like I’ve said before, our people are our most important asset, as they take care of the things that matter most to us: the animals. And while I want our organization to be firing on all cylinders at all times, it should never be at the cost of anyone’s physical or mental well-being. We take care of animals each and every day, so it’s a no-brainer that we should be taking care of our people and giving them the ability to take care of their families when they need them, too.

I wrote recently about compensation for our employees (and our industry as a whole, really)  and how improving pay was essential as we continue to make Best Friends the best place possible for our employees. But it’s just as important to know that your employer has your back when you have to deal with important family matters or personal medical care. It allows us to be our best selves and do the work we all came to Best Friends to do.

2025 is around the corner, and the only way to get there is if we’re strong together. Because together, we will Save Them All.

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Julie Castle with Sunny the dog
Julie Castle
CEO
Best Friends Animal Society
@BFAS_Julie