Coming to the end of your adventures together and losing a beloved dog or cat can be an awful experience for any pet owner. In the last few months, bereavement following the loss of a pet has been getting some media attention since the launch of a petition calling for UK employers to offer pet bereavement leave. We spoke to our pet health expert to find out more about the petition, the current rights of workers, and the grief you might experience when losing a pet.

Pet bereavement leave -woman cuddling cockapoo

What is the petition?

Allow bereavement leave from work following the death of a family pet is a petition set up by Emma McNulty. Following the death of her family dog, a 14 year-old Yorkshire terrier, she requested the day off work from her employer. McNulty lost her job after being told that she would have to either work or find cover for her shift, something she was unable to do. She has since set up the petition, arguing that a family pet holds just as much importance as a human member.

What does the law say?

Under current UK law, The Employment Rights Act 1996 gives employees the right to ‘reasonable’ time off to manage an emergency. This might include the death of a dependent, usually a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent or someone who depends on them for care. No specific mention is made of whether a pet might fall into this category. It’s also up to employers to determine how much leave to allow a worker, as well as whether this time should be paid.

Pet bereavement leave - dog and kitten having a snooze.

How can the death of a pet affect a person’s ability to work?

The natural reaction to losing anyone, including a pet, will be feelings of grief. According to ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), grief can interfere with the bereaved person’s thought processes, concentration and sleep patterns. All of these effects can make being at work more difficult than normal, and the bereaved person might find their ability to perform tasks affected. With this in mind, it might make sense to allow employees time off following the loss of a pet.

Pets as part of the family

There’s no doubt that people in the UK are crazy about their pets. Dogs and cats are increasingly seen as part of the family, with owners willing to spend more than ever on luxury food, toys, clothing and bedding for their pets. The bond between people and their pets is stronger than ever. With this the grief that comes as a result of the loss of a beloved pet might also be much more impactful. It’s no wonder then, that many people can find going to work as normal after the death of their pet difficult to manage.

Pet bereavement leave - young girl hugs her dog and cat.

A mixed response

While there have been many positive responses to the petition, there are those who don’t agree. Some people have argued that a pet can never be as important as a human family member. Others raise the issue that introducing bereavement leave for the loss of a pet could unfairly disadvantage non-pet owners. The fact that there is now a debate about pet bereavement leave is important, however, as it should hopefully allow people from both sides to consider and learn from the opinions of others. Whether this will lead to the introduction of pet bereavement leave or not remains to be seen.

Wherever you stand on this issue, if you have any questions, or you’ve been affected by the death of a beloved pet, Blue Cross offer a Pet Bereavement Support Service to help grieving owners, and are there to help.   

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  1. Having read the article my view has mixed feelings.some people don’t relate to their animals as much as others .So I think employers are only going to support and grant pet leave if they can relate to the compassion and level of greivence themselves. As an avid pet owner my self I can relate to the loss of many pets and each one is as a dreadful loss as if it is a family member as animals give a lot of loyalty and love to a person . So I think it’s a tricky one .
    I hope it’s introduced to people but on a genuine basis not to be abused by people who make the issue an excuse to have time off .😊

  2. Tracie Mason

    Pets as therapy and the rights of losing a four legged family member can be devastating for those who depend on their only friend/loved one, not everyone can have children and not everyone has a family to depend on, we should all have equal rights in who we choose to love…..

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