Well, fundamentally, how can you begin to concentrate on work when you have experienced such a traumatic life event as putting to sleep a much-loved pet which has been an integral part of your family for more than 15 years. Mark and I were both very fortunate: I am self-employed and was working with a particularly understanding and good-hearted client; Mark works flexi-time and so together we could take the time off. But what protection do other workers/employees have in such occasions? And is this likely to change in the future?
In terms of statutory entitlements, there wouldn’t be any specific bereavement-type leave entitlement available. The only statutory leave available would be using up annual leave and, depending on the employer, it may well be that you have to give specific notice of taking annual leave rather than it just happening with very little notice.
Therefore, you would have to check the wording of any other leave provided by the employer such as compassionate leave. Generally, this is used in circumstances such as a dependent falling seriously ill or if you need to take time off to attend a funeral of a close friend or relative. But I know that I have worked alongside many people who were closer to their pets than their families and therefore not to be afforded the same time off work to cope with losing a pet would be a real blow.
According to the pet charity PDSA’s annual survey of UK pet owners there are approximately 49% of UK adults who own a pet which equates to approximately 11.1 million cats; 8.9 million dogs and 1 million rabbits – and they are just the more common pets we own! That is a huge number of staff across UK organisations who are likely to need time off to deal with a pet emergency which can be every bit as demanding – on both physical and emotional needs – as other dependents.
There are some businesses that are supportive of pets and even encourage employees to bring them to work – such as the recent Bring your dog to work day which took place on 26th June this year.
In terms of support for staff facing more challenging pet needs, one example that I came across when researching this was a woman called Katie whose employer told her to take as much time off as she needed when her beloved pet dog died unexpectedly. Katie was hugely appreciative of the support shown by her manager and these things matter when trying to retain the best talent. From a human perspective, of course managers should show compassion in such situations and therefore time off work should be given.
There are an increasing number of companies who are allowing staff to take time off work when they first buy a pet – maybe you might like to call this “pawternity leave”. There are plenty of companies that are introducing this such as the Brewdog brewery and Mars (which owns Whiskas and Pedigree so perhaps not a surprise). The Kennel Club says the first 16 weeks of a puppy’s life goes a long way to producing a well-balanced sociable dog and that requesting time off would be sensible for the owner and extremely beneficial to the puppy.
Whilst few in number here, in the USA there are some companies that give pet leave when a pet dies.
UK employment law hasn’t, until now anyway, recognised this emerging need/trend and even the most enlightened employers are unlikely to offer any paid bereavement leave for pets. Perhaps the best that we can expect is that employers will offer time off for staff on a compassionate level. I know how much I appreciated that compassion and understanding and given how unproductive I would have been at work anyway; it was very welcome. We all know that unhappy staff leads to significant drops in production. If you are an employer, please consider how this plays out to staff.
I look forward to hearing about your experiences.
In the meantime, RIP Dory.