Pet Bereavement Leave In The Workplace

Cards on the table and straight off the bat I want to say that this really needs to happen. I actively encourage employers to implement HR policy changes to include Pet Bereavement Leave. This may sound like a strange thing to say but it makes good business sense.

‘How so?’ I hear the nation’s employers ask. Well, I am only too happy to explain…

I would like to start by quoting one of our country’s best known entrepreneurs, Sir Richard Branson. ‘Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to’. Wise words, huh?.. How about… ‘Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business. It’s as simple as that’. I doubt anyone would say that this billionaire doesn’t know what he’s talking about. A little compassion goes a long way to strengthening the relationship between employer and employee.

Now for some science. During the grieving process, it’s very common to lack focus and concentration. According to Dr Jannel Phillips, a neuropsychologist at Henry Ford Health System, neurological changes take place within the brain, more specifically within the limbic region and pre-frontal cortex which deal with emotional regulation, memory, multi-tasking, organisation and learning. No pun intended but isn’t it a ‘no brainer’ that during such an emotionally distressing time, those functions could be significantly impaired? In that case I would recommend employers give employees a couple of days to process. With this evidence, I would say that people would be more likely to make mistakes and have accidents which could prove costly to any company. Ergo, it could actually be more financially beneficial to let staff take a time out when their focus is not on their job. If they are not concentrating because their mind is so consumed with thoughts of their pet, they might be involved in an accident before they even reach their place of work. From a conscience point of view, how would that make you feel as an employer/manager if you refused them a couple of days to get their head straight? Pretty guilty I’d imagine… If only I hadn’t been such an authoritarian… If only I had considered employee emotional wellbeing and mental health… Make no mistake, this is very much an issue of mental health and employers do have a responsibility in that regard. Employers could also find themselves on the wrong side of litigation… Financial and PR disaster.

If, once again, I may use Emma McNulty as an example from my previous blog. She, at the age of just 18, lost her job following the death of her family pet of 14 years. Her companion animal and best friend, Millie the Yorkshire terrier. She contacted her employer, appraised them of the situation and informed them that she was too grief stricken to work. Instead of showing compassion and sympathy, her employer stated that if she was unable to work her shift then she herself, would need to arrange cover or face dismissal. At such short notice, Emma was unable to arrange for anyone to cover her shift and she did indeed lose her job. I state here and now that I am absolutely disgusted at her former employer’s lack of compassion. As an entrepreneur myself, that makes absolutely no sense to me. They would rather lose an experienced employee, reduce productivity, pay another employee overtime until a replacement staff member was recruited and pay for recruitment and training costs than give an existing employee a couple of days off. I am so impressed that this brave young woman, through her tears, stood up for herself and every other grieving pet parent and started her petition. Bravo Emma! As a matter of humanity, health and safety please sign and let’s help her make this positive change for everyone in the future.

Some forward-thinking employers are already offering this support and recognise the value in granting Pet Bereavement Leave. It is my hope that other employers will follow these trail blazers. This could literally be life saving for someone. In addition to giving a great PR angle, it also makes them a very desirable employer to work for. People like to feel valued, like their well-being matters. This will attract the best of the best workers and happy workers are productive workers.

Very often, the lack of compassion within the work environment comes from Disenfranchised Grief, which was discussed in the previous blog. If you have not read that, the definition of disenfranchised grief is ‘grief that is not acknowledged or accepted within society’. Those who are grieving the loss of their beloved pet can often be made to feel like they are over-reacting or being ridiculous when in fact they have every right to feel whatever they are feeling without judgement or criticism from their colleagues. Usually people who have not experienced this type of loss. Grieving Pet Parents can often be viewed as weak or over sensitive which can often feel like passive aggressive bullying to those on the receiving end of it. Bullying in the workplace is not ok and again holds great implications for any HR department.

I feel so passionately about this and I have a range of options available to employers. I would be honoured to consult with employers/management, deliver training (if required) and I can support employees with an individual or package of counselling sessions. Working together to make positive changes in the workplace would be an epic step in the right direction. Although there is no current legal requirement specifically for pet bereavement, The Employment Rights Act 1996 states that employees have the right to ‘reasonable’ time off to deal with an emergency which includes the death of a dependent. So please be progressive and give due consideration. Afterall, it could be argued that a pet is a dependent… I certainly believe they are.

Please visit the ‘Contact Us’ page if I can support you in implementing change and/or support your employees following the loss of their companion animal.