Pet Bereavement: Work Policies + Coping Explained

Updated

Many pet owners consider their pets as extensions of their families. When a pet dies, coping with pet loss can be a devastating experience. Many bereaved pet owners who are employed outside the home struggle with grief. But they must return to work without taking time off to mourn their pet’s death properly.

Unfortunately, not many workplaces have a formal pet bereavement leave policy, even those that are considered pet-friendly workplaces. 

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Without the proper time off to mourn a pet’s death, an employee’s work productivity suffers, while changed attitudes toward the employer can create a hostile work environment. For that reason, showing compassion to employees suffering the loss of a beloved pet and allowing time off for bereavement after their pet dies makes sense for the bereaved employee and the employer. 

Do Places of Employment Typically Have Pet Bereavement Policies?

Currently, there's no federal pet bereavement leave policy. Family leave laws do not extend to time off for caring for a sick pet or for taking time off when they die. A pet sickness or death is not considered eligible for paid time off from work, and in some cases, it doesn't even allow a bereaved employee to take unpaid time off from their work duties.

In this economy and how we now do business, many employees have switched to working from home to spend more quality time with their pets and families. In order to compete, there's been a wide range of pet policies incorporated into pet-friendly workplaces.

Some of these changes go beyond bringing your pet into the workplace, as they center around the employee's overall wellbeing and mental health. However, there's yet to be a complete adoption of such policies in general. 

Pets make excellent companions to people who live alone or don't have children, and many employers have noticed. There are benefits to places of employment incorporating pet-friendly policies into the workplace. Having these policies in place brings a significant benefit to individuals who see their pets as part of their family.

What Does a Good Pet Bereavement Policy Look Like?

Policies that are sensitive to pet ownership and promote a pet-friendly work environment might allow for paid leave when a pet is sick or has died. Incorporating such policies into a company’s overall employment contract allows for many added benefits to both employee and employer. 

Some of the less obvious benefits to an employer are the attraction and retention of quality employees, increased productivity, and an overall positive company outlook. 

Companies interested in improving their attractiveness to high-value employees should consider incorporating some of these elements below into their corporate pet leave policies.

Paid pet bereavement leave

This policy alone can be desirable to employees who consider their pets as important as any other family member. When a beloved pet dies, the grieving process mimics when another member of the employee’s family dies.

Most pet owners dealing with the death of their pets will need a few days off to process their grief and get over the initial grief reactions that follow a pet’s death. Forcing an employee to return to work without the proper time to digest their loss can create potential problems in work productivity and relationships with coworkers. 

Time off for medical care

Many employees' pets suffer from either long-term illness or unexpected changes to their health due to accidents or injuries requiring them to take time off of work. Many companies frown upon an employee taking time off of work for what they consider unnecessary.

Unless the company policy already allows for a generous personal time off policy, employees dealing with their pet's health issues may find it challenging to find the time to take their pets to seek medical attention. This issue is a serious one that faces many companies trying to meet productivity demands while balancing their employees' needs outside the workplace. 

Flexible work schedules

A good pet bereavement policy might include the ability for employees to temporarily switch to a flexible work schedule allowing them to work a few days a week remotely. Allowing pet owners to spend more time at home with a dying pet while working remotely does wonders for the employee’s overall wellbeing.

Not only will the employee get the added time with their pet, but they’ll also feel less guilty about having to leave them at home alone. Many companies currently offer flexible work schedules for parents of young children needing them at home on some days. This policy fits well for pet owners who consider their pets as children. 

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How Can Employers Support an Employee Who Lost a Pet?

There are many other ways an employer can support a bereaved employee dealing with the death of their pet. One of the first places an employer can start with shifting to a more pet-friendly environment is by implementing the necessary policies that make it easier for employees to ask for and receive the help they need during a crisis. 

Ways to support employees can include providing easy access to HR personnel, access to grief resources both within and outside of the company, and showing genuine empathy for what their employees are suffering. The following are ways an employer can take it a step further in demonstrating to their employees that they are a valued part of the company.

Showing empathy and compassion

Many people don’t know what to say when someone loses a pet. Much like any other type of death affecting an employee, finding the right words to say can prove challenging.

A person who’s lost a pet needs to feel supported and understood, just as if they were dealing with the death of another family member. Employers can show support by expressing condolences, acknowledging the pet's death, and being compassionate toward their bereaved employees. 

Providing grief resources

Pet loss grief is the same as other types of suffering. A person experiencing the death of their pet can expect to undergo some or all of the stages of grief that include initial shock, denial, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.

Processing a pet’s death will take some time, and the employee may need outside professional counseling or therapy to help them adjust to their loss. Employee grief resources presently made available for other types of loss can be extended to support those who’ve suffered the death of a pet. 

Educating management 

Ensuring that all company personnel in managerial positions are adequately versed in handling employee bereavement is another way employers can support grieving employees. Continuing education on managing employee loss at the workplace is an excellent step toward incorporating policies aimed at helping individuals who are mourning the death of a pet.

Most people who aren't pet owners don't understand the depth of pain and suffering following pet loss. They can't or won't consider that a pet can be loved and missed as much as other members of an employee's family. Because of this, more education in the workplace is needed to ensure the compassionate treatment of bereaved pet owners. 

Tips for Returning to Work for Employees Who Lost a Pet 

As with any other type of loss, employees should take the time to process their loss before returning to the workplace. Going back to work too soon can complicate the grieving process, leading to severe issues with their productivity, coworkers, or managers.

Not many workplaces are pet-friendly or allow for added time off after the death of a pet. An employee needs to process their emotions away from the added stress of their work-related duties.

Take adequate time off

There's no time frame for processing grief. Each experience is unique. Some people are excellent at holding in their sorrow while at work, while others simply can't. You won't know how grief affects you until you go through the experience.

Returning to work too soon may not allow you sufficient time to take in your loss and process the initial grief reactions that are common following the death of a pet. Talk to your employer about your pet bereavement leave needs just as you would with any other type of loss.

Learn how grief works

Reading books about pet loss can help you discover the reasons behind your grief reactions. Hardly anyone's ever taught how to grieve the loss of a pet.

Most people don't ever stop to think just how much their pet's death will affect them until they find themselves struggling to make it through. Grief isn't the same for everyone, but there are some commonly shared experiences that you can learn about to prepare you for what to expect. 

Ease back into your work

You can expect that you won’t be back to normal immediately after returning to work. You may need to take some time to get back to your regular production levels. Consider asking coworkers to help you pick up the slack for a few days. Talk with your manager about the possibility of having a lighter workload for a few days. 

Pet Bereavement Leave in the Workplace 

The way we work and the value we place on our relationships have shifted in recent years. The current trend is to focus on the employee's overall wellbeing in the workplace.

These changes include shifts in work-life balance and how we treat and value those we love, including our pets. The importance of being there for the pets we love has also taken center stage in how many employers seek to enhance their employees' overall work experience. 


Source:
  1. Wilkin, C.L., Fairlie, P. and Ezzedeen, S.R. (2016), "Who let the dogs in? A look at pet-friendly workplaces", International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 96-109. Doi.org
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