Bereavement leave: does this cover time off after losing a pet?

27 September 2019

Losing a pet can be a distressing time for many individuals, and some feel that employees should be granted time off to grieve the loss of a pet as they would for any other family member.

This topic has been in the news recently after a woman was dismissed after taking unapproved time off following the death of her dog, which lead her to start the petition “Allow bereavement leave from work following the death of a family pet” on Change.org. 

Under current legislation, there is no legal requirement for UK employers to provide bereavement leave (for people or pets). Many employers do choose to have a bereavement leave policy, however, whether this includes the loss of a pet is a matter of Company policy. If a bereavement leave policy is in practice, this should be widely available, and we recommend that employees are able to easily find this in the company handbook.

Many share the view that a pet is part of the family and grieve the loss of a pet as they would do so for a person. Some may feel unable to work for a short period of time to deal with this grief or would be too distracted to come into work immediately after the loss of a pet, which in turn could affect productivity levels. On the other hand, many employers feel that if pets were to be included in the ‘dependant’ category for time off then this could lead to too many pet-related absences that would leave the employer understaffed or this process being abused. Where do you draw the line? A family pet may be a dog or a hamster. 

What can an employee do if they need time off work for a pet bereavement? 

The impact of losing a pet can be tough for some, however, employees should remember that taking unauthorised leave can result in disciplinary action. Therefore, we would suggest that, if you are considering bereavement leave for pets, that you encourage your employee to speak with you to explain the circumstances in the first instance. 

What can an employer do if an employee needs time off work for a pet bereavement? 

If your policy doesn’t include paid time off for bereavement of a pet, employers may offer an alternative route to authorised time off work. This may include a period of annual leave or unpaid leave, should the business requirements allow it. Or possibly introducing a work from home option for a few days or so whilst adjusting to the loss.

This compromise approach shows a level of compassion and may avoid the problem of an employee calling in sick rather than having an honest and open discussion. 

The best course of practice for employers would be to have a bereavement leave policy in place that clearly details what is covered and what is not covered. It’s important that if a policy is in place, that managers are aware of it and apply decisions consistently. 

RSM can help an employer establish a bereavement leave policy or review the current policy to ensure this reflects the company intention, culture and best practice. RSM can also help employers deal with employees who flout policies or try to bend the rules; those who need to be managed carefully so that business productivity is not affected. RSM has a team of HR consultants that can assist with a whole host of people challenges managers face when managing their teams on a day-to-day basis. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Kerri Constable.