Compassionate leave | Worker sacked over dead dog debacle

Worker sacked over dead dog debacle

When a friend or relative of an employee dies, they are often encouraged by their employer to take off as much time as they need to come to terms with the grief. But, what happens when the death is a furry friend?

While this question will undoubtedly spark debate among dog-lovers and animal enthusiasts, several HR issues are highlighted in cases like these including bereavement policies and whether pets should be included in this. A recent story outlining some of these issues has gone viral.

An employee grieving over the loss of her dog has hit back against her employer who refused to give her a day off work and told her that “no bereavement time was allowed for pets” – The BBC reported.

Emma McNulty told bosses that she was too upset to work her shift following the death of her dog earlier that day.

"I informed my manager I could not come into work as I was too devastated and physically sick to do so,” she told Glasgow Live.

"Instead of being shown the compassion and sympathy stated in the contract, I was sent a number of nasty messages and told I had to cover my shift as no bereavement time was allowed for pets.

"I did not go to work that day and I was fired and left unemployed the same day as losing my best friend, this caused me extreme distress and sickness."

The turn of events encouraged McNulty to start an online petition asking employers to view pet bereavement in the same light as a human family member which is starting to gain traction online. While McNulty may be an advocate of this cause, it is not to say that everyone is in agreeance.

David D’Souza, a Director at CIPD – who shared previously reportage of this story on Twitter – said that he felt family was different to pets. “…I’ve let people take time off when distressed, because that’s compassion.

“But legal recognition that losing a pet is the same as losing a brother/sister/mother/father is, in my opinion, not right.”

A Twitter user by the handle @KatieAndThePigs responded: “I’m not suggesting legal protection either. Just a bit of basic compassion from employers. I lost Elsie on a Friday in January. My boss told me to stay at home. Good idea really. Because having me openly weeping in the middle of the office wouldn’t have been a good look.”


According to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), bereavement is the grief that “impacts on the emotional, physical, spiritual and psychological wellbeing of the person who is bereaved.”

Wales Online reported that employees are entitled to ‘time off for dependants’ which constitutes to a person that relies on you for care, such as a marital partner, child, or a parent but it gives no mention of pets.

Despite this, Jayne Harrison, Head of Employment Law at Richard Nelson LLP told HR Grapevine that compassionate leave for pets shouldn’t be undermined. “After all, the idea of an ‘office dog’ has become incredibly popular in some offices, so the need to grieve pets should be met with sympathy. It is important to remember that when managers do not show compassion, it can turn a workplace into a hostile work environment. Rejecting requests for compassionate leave can result in burnout and brownout in employees too, which has become a prominent issue to combat in workplaces recently anyway.

“Even if an employer does not view pets as dependents but they need emergency care or have passed away, employees may be allowed to take some ‘compassionate leave’ from work. Normally, this would be one or two days. Whether or not this would be paid leave is entirely dependent on the organisation.”

Additionally, Sam Murray-Hinde, Partner at law firm Howard Kennedy, explained that with the UK renowned for being a pet-loving nation, “it's no surprise that employees might request time off to deal with the passing of their prized pooch or furry friend. However, compassionate leave is usually limited to coping with the death of a close relative.”

Murray-Hinde added: “To manage a situation where an employee might otherwise just go sick, employers could implement a policy offering employees some unpaid time off on top of their holiday entitlement which can be used for pet bereavements, birthdays or moving house. Paid or unpaid, Rover can rest in peace that his owner has some time out to deal with their loss.”

Eugene Farrell, Mental Health Lead for AXA PPP Healthcare argued that many people classify pets as real family members. He said: “The loss can be felt as significantly as the loss of a relative. A good employer will appreciate the psychological distress that an employee may be experiencing and demonstrate compassion. 

“Line managers who have been properly trained to do what’s ‘right’ to help people in times of psychological distress may, for example, allow them a ‘discretionary’ day’s leave. Whilst ‘bereavement leave’ for pets is not protected in employment law, I’d like to think wise employers can be pragmatic in helping to support employees.  After all, we are already seeing some employers granting employees leave for a new puppy, why wouldn’t they do the same at the loss of the pet?”

‘Life Leave’

To help employees cope with unforeseen circumstances, one firm has launched ‘Life Leave’ for its UK and Ireland employees.

The brewing company Molson Coors has launched a new initiative giving staff two extra weeks paid leave to account for life’s 'important moments'.

Adam Firby, HR Director UK & Ireland, at Molson Coors, said: “We’re really proud of the team culture we’ve created. Many of our employees already work on a flexible basis, but we wanted to take this one step further. Launching ‘Life Leave’ allows people to use their holiday as it’s meant to be – a break – whilst knowing they’ve got the breathing space to tap into extra leave for the planned and unplanned life moments,” he concluded.

Should employees be given compassionate leave for the death of a pet? Let us know in the comments below…

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Comments (14)

  • BradleyGas
    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 2:19pm BST
    I think the idea of using annual holiday is sensible, if there's none left, then unpaid leave. Giving days to grieve for a pet may sound compassionate - and is - but where would it end? Days off for various relatives, close friends. And, it would be open to serious abuse.
  • Sir
    Thu, 15 Aug 2019 9:50pm BST
    I am dismayed that reactions have been to the notion that employees, distraught following a pet bereavement, are being "forced to work" (or would be, given my views on the matter). My suggestion was that paid time away from work could be covered by annual leave.
    I would also consider that annual leave is not simply or uniquely for "holidays and a happy time" - is exists to enable employees to take time away from work (ie fulfilling their contract) without loss of earnings.
    If you added up all the leave suggested by HR professionals - pet bereavement leave, 'pawternity' leave, PMT leave, grandparent leave and so on - some 'employees' would scarcely darken the door from one month to the next.
    Think of that next time you call for an ambulance. One will arrive to look after you because the employees (paramedics or whoever) actually showed up for work that day !
  • Quentin Lillis
    Quentin Lillis
    Thu, 15 Aug 2019 3:25pm BST
    In response to the comments of SIR: the fact that people are occasionally unfit for work is not because "HR" want them to, or are helping them to take time off; it is because they are just simply not fit. I do appreciate that under pressure to perform some management just seem to forget that the best productivity comes from fit, mentally well, willing people and not those who feel the fear of a coercive, disapproving, or uncaring culture. Being compassionate is just taking a pragmatic approach. Let's assume that you are some kind of workplace leader, with responsibility for operations and profitability; would you honestly rather have a team of high attending, but often sub-optimally performing people? Or wouldn't you really prefer to work with people who are present in mind and body and who actually enjoy working for you because you are compassionate and reasonable? Before you decide I'm naive: I have been managing people as a line manager since 1980 in blue collar and professional occupations, I have held senior HR responsibility for up to 10,000 people. I'm also a self employed business person.
  • clkgeeklogin
    Thu, 15 Aug 2019 3:12pm BST
    There is a common sense approach but where do we draw the line? We draw a line on human beings - usually a close relative is covered by compassionate leave but not other relatives. Unpaid time off, annual leave or sick leave are there to be used if necessary. If you are unfit to work then there are options to accommodate this.
  • MM
    Thu, 15 Aug 2019 2:39pm BST
    I think it's important to appreciate that not everyone chooses to have children and pets may be all the family people have. Everyone's cases are different and that is what makes HR. To make our employees feel valued is to be understanding and compassionate if they do lose a pet and not expect them to take annual leave! It is definitely not a holiday or a happy time. As a pet owner I know the pain of losing a pet and it was as painful as losing a family member.

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