Pet Bereavement Leave - What is HR's Duty?

By Amanda Beattie
26 Sep 2022

“My employee is asking to take time off work following the death of their pet – do I have to let them take it?”

The legal answer is no—there is no obligation to allow staff time off for pets.

The good management answer is to consider whether allowing them time off to grieve is appropriate when a pet dies.

While there is no legal obligation, they are unlikely to be able perform to the best of their ability immediately afterwards. A day or two to process their grief may give them the time they need.

We thought we’d get the most pressing question out of the way first before we dive into why we’re bringing this up now…

Why now?

In the past few years, employees who have lost a pet have taken their grievances to the one place they’re certain to be understood—the internet.

The first major instance of this was in 2019 when a fast-food employee was dismissed. Emma McNulty told her line manager that she couldn’t make her shift following the death of her family dog. The manager told her that the company didn’t have a pet bereavement policy, so she had to come to work. She didn’t turn up for her shift and was dismissed shortly after. McNulty started an online petition, which was signed by over 10,000 people, calling for a change to employment law. This change would require organisations to provide bereavement leave following the loss of a pet.

In 2021, pet wellness experts Itch launched a campaign inspired by McNulty’s petition. The campaign aims to get more employers to introduce pet bereavement policies. Andrew Pinnington, CEO of Itch, claims that their company has a variety of pet-related benefits, such as paw-ternity leave and time off to volunteer for animal charities. They cite that nearly half of the pet owners think the death of a pet is just as hard to deal with as a human one such as an immediate family member.

While the campaign may have helped encourage some conversations amongst employers, there is still no legal momentum. This is demonstrated by the most recent case when an employee took to Reddit’s ‘anti-work’ forum. The employee, Hope, originally texted her boss stating that she had a ‘family emergency’. The manager told Hope it was her responsibility to find cover for her shift (it wasn’t) and asked her to elaborate. Hope told her employer that her dog had been put down, and the boss responded: “That’s not the best reason to tell me you’re not coming into work.”

Hope responded by telling her manager that she’d be handing in her two weeks’ notice.

All of these cases demonstrate one thing… pets are increasingly the responsibility of HR.


kitten chewing a pen


Why Pets are HR’s responsibility

It’s called “human” resources, not “pet” resources. We know.

Does bereavement leave include pets? No. But, HR isn’t just about legal compliance.

Animals are linked to an individual’s well-being. The mental well-being of the workforce is one of HR’s primary responsibilities. So, whether it is bringing a dog to work, or allowing time off work for a sick pet, HR needs to be involved.

Still don’t believe it? Between January and May 2022, the total number of job searches for dog-friendly offices increased by 53%. To stay competitive—and influenced by the Itch campaign—many employers are now introducing pet-friendly policies.

Maybe you should too?


goldfish in bowl


Time off for pet death policy

To help you get started, we’ve produced a few guidelines on introducing a policy to your workplace. In this sample pet bereavement leave policy we’ll highlight the key points you need to cover. These are:

  1. Who can take pet bereavement leave – use your current standard bereavement leave policy as a reference. For example, all employees have the right off when a dependent dies, this could be extended to pets too.
  2. How long leave can be taken – there is no set time off for standard bereavement leave, only what is ‘reasonable’. You can choose to provide a certain number of days off, but this is at your discretion.
  3. Whether the time off will be paid or unpaid – compassionate leave isn’t paid, so you don’t have to pay staff for time off for pets. If you do, make sure the details of paid bereavement leave are included in your policy.
  4. Notice needed to take leave – A notice period can be a barrier to effective bereavement leave. A standard bereavement policy allows for the employee to leave work immediately and inform the employer as soon as possible. Reflect on this approach in your pet bereavement policy.

Help with HR pet-related matters

While pet bereavement leave, and other pet-friendly policies, are not currently legal obligations, they may be key to staying competitive in your industry. 

If this is a new approach for your business, we would recommend seeking independent external advice when constructing your policies and procedures. 

Get clarification and support with pet-related incidents or policies at work. Call one of our HR advisors to support you and you'll receive expert advice. Just call 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Amanda Beattie

Amanda represents corporate clients and large public bodies, including complex discrimination and whistleblowing claims. Amanda also drafts and delivers bespoke training regarding all aspects of employment law, including ‘mock tribunal’ events; in addition she also frequently drafts employment law articles for various publications for Croner and their clients.

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