A handful of companies are offering their employees paid time off to grieve the loss of a pet; could your company be next?
In a recent Harris Poll, 95 percent of respondents said that they considered their pets to be a member of the family. Further, a second study found that nearly one in three pet owners grieve the loss of a furry friend for at least six months, with respondents noting that they experienced signs of grief typical of the loss of a human life, including numbness, shock, disbelief, guilt, and anger. Linda Anderson, author of the book Saying Goodbye to your Angel Animals, notes that “hundreds of thousands of social media posts attest to the variety of ways we’re relating to animals that would have been unthinkable in the past—getting them groomed, dressing them up, entering pets in contests, taking them on vacations. No wonder people are discussing pet bereavement leave. You have lost a vital part of your home and your heart.”
Of note, employers including Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants offer their workers a three-day pet bereavement leave, while the chocolate and pet food manufacturer Mars offers its employees one or more days off work, flexible hours, and a work from home option following the death of a pet.
Trupanion, the pet insurance company, also offers their employees a day off to grieve, while the dog walking and boarding site Rover offers a flexible leave policy for workers mourning the loss of a pet.
HR pros and pet lovers alike tend to look more favorably on pet bereavement leave as a valuable perk for businesses that have a strong tie with four-legged friends, such as veterinary offices, pet supply sores, and animal rescue organizations. However, some HR pros question whether companies could benefit from adding on the perk. Joey Price, a Baltimore-based HR consultant for small businesses notes that “employees experiencing traumatic loss in their personal lives don’t always mentally show up 100 percent at work.” As such, he suggests that “showing that you are a thoughtful employer who cares as much about personal mental health as you do about productivity will pay dividends in employee satisfaction, retention, and overall goodwill.”
Arguably, some business owners, and even employees, will think such a policy is unnecessary and may even view it as being exclusionary to non-pet owners. Instead, they suggest that opting to take time off to mourn the loss of a pet is an activity that should fall under the umbrella of a personal day or more general paid time off. In this way, all workers have the same allotment of time off and can choose (to a degree) how they wish to spend that time. However, experts including licensed social worker Janet Zimmerman notes that having a policy in place to acknowledge the loss of a pet “in addition to providing time and space for grief, also serve to validate that grief.” Specifically, they note that animal lovers often feel uncomfortable grieving the loss of a pet in front of their coworkers for fear of embarrassment or rejection, with Zimmerman noting that “giving these people who are in terrible pain some acknowledgment that pet bereavement is a serious personal issue is just an empathic way to go.”
While offering paid time off may not be a feasible option for some businesses, there are other ways that can prove equally meaningful to acknowledge the loss of a worker’s pet. For example, allowing flexible scheduling to work around vet appointments, offering for the employee to work from home so that they can comfort a child recovering from the loss, or simply sending a card acknowledging the loss can all go a long way towards creating a culture that fosters empathy and caring.
Should you choose to offer a pet bereavement policy as standard, we will be happy to help you work it into your employee handbook in a way that outlines who and under what circumstances this type of leave should be used and how employees should go about activating such leave.