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Pet Death and the Workplace

I was recently contacted by BBC Radio Northampton to see if I would speak on the radio about what happens when an employee’s pet has died. Whilst most employers have a policy in place for compassionate and bereavement leave for a family member, there is rarely a policy in place that tackles the issue of pet death.

The British are well known for being animal lovers. More and more dogs can be brought to work with the permission of the boss – it saves on doggie day care or the risk of damage at home caused by separation anxiety and can dramatically improve morale having their companion at their side all day. It is a well known fact that having a dog around for example can lift people’s spirits and relieve stress. Pets can be integral to our lives.

For many people their animals mean the world to them when they are alive and when death occurs it can be like losing a member of the family with all the heartache and grief which that brings.

To some employees the idea of having time off for a pet death might not seem important, but other may want to take some time out. It can be a tough time for some with feelings of loneliness, guilt, isolation and depression impacting on mental and physical health. Work can suffer and it might be difficult to concentrate. Colleagues need to be seen to be supportive even if some can’t understand emotions they might be witnessing. We are all different in how we cope with things.

There is no right to time off for the death of a family member let alone a pet death but having some empathy can go a long way to increasing morale. I once worked for an employer who allowed a senior manager to have a few days off with pay to mourn the death of a dog. A forward thinking employer might decide it would be a good idea to draw up a pet death policy to make it clear to staff what to expect and where they stand. Having a policy in place shows an employer cares. The policy should include how many days bereavement leave is allowed and what pets might be covered. Losing a dog or cat that may have been with the family for many years may be quite different to losing a pet goldfish. The policy should include details about what pay may be received.

Details of where employees could get help with their grief could be included. Currently Blue Cross offer a pet bereavement service with a daily twelve hour helpline. The Cats Protection Society offer Paws to Listen as they recognise impact of a cat death is often underestimated. The Friends at the End service is provided by the British Horse Society. They all offer pet-focused counselling type helplines allowing a grieving pet owner to talk about their loss with someone who understands. Alternatively a company may have an employee assistance programme available for employees to access.

When the employee returns to work it might be good to encourage them to talk about their loss before moving onto what they have missed whilst being away.

For more about pets at work read my blog http://sjbealehrconsult.co.uk/blog/pets-at-work-considerations-for-employers/