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Paws for thought; compassionate leave for pet bereavement?

The question of whether employers should offer employees ‘pet bereavement leave’ after their furry friends pass away has been discussed in the media this week.

Shop worker Emma McNulty was dismissed from her part-time job after failing to attend work the day after her beloved pet terrier was put down.

Ms McNulty claimed she was physically sick with grief and could not attend work, but was reportedly told that if she could not find anyone to cover her shift, she would have to attend work or face dismissal.

Ms McNulty has now started a petition for employers to offer their employees bereavement leave when their employees’ pets die.

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees have the right to ‘reasonable’ time off to deal with an emergency situation, which includes the death of a dependent. However, this normally only includes close relatives such as a spouse, child, or parent. The amount of leave to allow a worker, and whether this period of leave should be paid, is at the employer’s discretion.

However, bereavement affects individuals in different ways, and some employees may be seriously affected by their fur babies passing away. Acas have commented on this, stating that “the death of a beloved pet can impact a worker’s mental health and a good employer should be sensitive and mindful of their employees’ wellbeing”.

There has also been an increased trend over the last couple of years, particularly in the US, of employers allowing employees to take “pawternity leave” when they take on a new pet. This trend is reflective of many people, especially younger employers, who view pets as equal members of their families and want to care for them as such. 

Aside from introducing compassionate leave, there are other steps employers can take to support their employees through tough times such as the death of a pet:

  • Promoting positive mental health in the workplace, for example introducing trained mental health first aiders, or ‘safe spaces’ to talk
  • Being flexible about allowing annual leave to be taken at short notice in situations where an employee’s pet has died
  • Being aware that employees suffering from mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder may be classified as disabled under the Equality Act 2010 and may find their symptoms are exacerbated as a result of their loss.

For further advice on how to handle sensitive issues in the workplace, or any other area of employment law, contact Kirsty Cooke, Senior Associate at k.cooke@ashfords.co.uk.

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