Following up on my last post about menstrual leave, I heard about another odd leave being offered by a few employers – pet bereavement leave (I also saw a reference to “peternity” leave). Unlike menstrual leave, this is not legally required in any country. But apparently it’s not entirely uncommon among those dog-crazy folks in the U.K. In the U.S., however, there are only a few companies that formally offer this type of leave, as a recent CBS Miami news story notes. In particular, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants allows managers to grant up to three days off for grieving pet parents, while pet insurance company Trupanion grants one day of bereavement leave.
Why is the leave needed? Sandra Grossman, a pet loss counselor, told the Wall Street Journal in an article on “The Challenge of Grieving for a Pet at Work,” most grieving pet owners need up to a week away from work to get over the initial shock. In addition, a survey referenced in that article noted that nearly 1 in 3 people feel grief and sadness for at least 6 months after the pet’s death.
Now, I adore my dog – yes, that’s his picture. (As an aside, my partners find that hilarious, because for most of my life I have been a dog-hater. That changed dramatically (and shockingly) when we got a dog – a long story that boils down to bribing my crazy teenage son). I understand (certainly better than before) that, for many people, a pet can be a member of the family.
But a pet isn’t human, and family leave laws don’t apply. While a number of states provide bereavement leave for state government employees, only Oregon has enacted a law that requires private employers to provide bereavement leave – and all of these laws apply only to human family members. Additionally, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and state counterparts do not allow employees to take time off to care for an ill or dying pet.
Of course, if an employee becomes depressed because of the death of a pet, it is possible that this could rise to the level of a disability that would require a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or a serious health condition for which leave must be granted under the FMLA. But, really, most people will not experience that severe an impact – just as most people may experience extreme grief but not become clinically depressed by the death of a spouse, parent or child.
I think a formal pet bereavement leave policy may be appropriate for certain employers, depending on the business and the specific workforce. Kimpton expressly recognizes the owner-pet relationship, and welcomes the pets of guests and employees on its properties. Trupanion’s business of pet insurance places the pet front and center. In those particular business environments, with employees who presumably share the management’s support of pet relationships, such policies may make sense.
But most businesses are not this pet-centric and may face problems in implementing such a leave policy. Many employees do not own pets, and frankly just don’t understand the depth of the relationship (I used to be one of those). A co-worker’s use of pet bereavement leave might be subject to mockery or even resentment from those who have to cover the absent employee’s responsibilities. For employers, there are questions as to what pets are covered – yes to cats and dogs, but what about rabbits, lizards and fish? (One of my partners has a pet chicken. Ok, to be fair, it’s his wife’s chicken. I don’t think he’ll be too sad when Pumpkin goes to the great chicken coop in the sky.) What about abuse of the leave – can an employer get certification from a vet about a pet’s passing?
That’s not to say that grieving employees should never be granted leave. But it likely can be handled on a case by case basis, using already existing leave policies. Many employers provide vacation or general Paid Time Off that may be used for any reason, including school events, religious holidays, doctor’s appointments and illnesses. Or they may provide unpaid leave for some of these things. Pet bereavement can be included in that list. And thoughtful managers will recognize that a grieving employee will likely be too upset to be productive and effective at work.
So, should employers start implementing formal pet bereavement leave policies? I say no. Let sleeping dogs lie.