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  • Writer's pictureJill Frampton

Pet loss and bereavement leave hit the headlines

Updated: Aug 19, 2019

Pet loss and bereavement leave have hit the headlines on the news and radio after 18 year old Emma McNulty from Baillieston, Glasgow was refused time off and subsequently sacked when she was too upset to attend her job at a sandwich shop after her beloved dog died.

Emma's Devoted Yorkshire Terrier Millie - Credit Emma McNulty / Metrograb
Emma's Devoted Yorkshire Terrier Millie - Credit Emma McNulty / Metrograb

Currently, there is no legal requirement for employers to allow their employees any time off work when their pet dies and few people will ask their employer for time off to grieve a beloved pet for fear that doing so would paint them as overly sentimental or emotionally weak.

People often feel embarrassed about the magnitude of the heartbreak, feeling hesitant to disclose distress to loved ones. Others may even wonder what is wrong with them and question why they are responding in such "disproportionate" ways to the loss which can rob people of crucial social support they may need to help deal with their emotions.

Losing a pet doesn’t just cause a broken heart; it elicits real and serious grief reactions and it can impair emotional and physical health[1]. Underestimating the impact that the loss of a pet can have can be detrimental to both employers and employees.

In fact, society as a whole finds it difficult to recognise how painful pet loss can be and so more often than not, if an employee feels that they will be unfairly judged for being honest with their employer, they may simply ‘throw a sickie’, something that can be very difficult to disprove.

Bereavement is obviously something that no one can anticipate, it can happen at any time and it turns lives, plans and schedules upside down. Grief and loss is a difficult and often misunderstood subject too. Everyone's loss and grief is experienced differently and of varying magnitude, whether it's the loss of a parent, husband, wife, child, relationship, job, health or in this case, a cherished pet.

Whilst employees do reserve the right to take time off to deal with emergencies that involve a ‘dependant’, legislation defines dependants as spouses, children or someone who depends upon the employee for care. Specifically, it does not mention any sort of animal owned by an individual.

How companies respond to this situation depends upon the views, discretion of management and demands of the business. Some managers may be sympathetic to their employee’s loss and be willing to let them take the time, whilst others may be less so. Refusing permission to those who have just lost their pet is likely to result in an employee responding poorly and they may not perform as well in their roles as a result. Currently it is perfectly acceptable for permission to be refused, however, a compassionate and supportive approach can demonstrate that the organisation values its employees, helps build commitment, reduces sickness absence, and retains the workforce.

Employers could consider letting an employee take some compassionate time away to deal with the situation, either by permitting a day of annual leave or expecting the time taken to be worked back at a later date. Leave could be granted as paid or unpaid and if it's essential for the employee to work on the day of the loss, employers could let them take the following day instead as a compromise. Similarly, grievers should be aware of their own responsibilities and understanding of their employers obligations.

Employees could also be referred to additional assistance the company may be able to offer, to help them better cope with their grief. Remember that as an employer, treatment should be consistent for all members of staff and it is highly advisable to outline any procedures within a company policy.

With empathy, discretion and consideration of a grievers wellbeing on the part of an employer and with understanding, compromise and mindfulness on the part of both employer and griever, hopefully, situations like this in the future could be avoided with a mutual agreement reached benefitting both employee and employer during what could well be a difficult and stressful time for both parties.

As animal lovers and pet owners ourselves, our thoughts go out to Emma and Millie.


If you have lost a beloved pet and you are experiencing grief and loss or if you are an employer and interested in finding out more about how to deal with situations that may arise because of pet loss and how you can best support employees, please get in touch at or by calling 07922 520595.


If you would like to sign the petition to allow bereavement leave from work following the death of a family pet you can do so at


In response to this news story, Jill was asked by BBC Radio Stoke to comment about pet loss and bereavement leave at work. It was a subject that was close to the hearts of listeners with touching comments and calls from the public describing how they have been affected by the loss of their cherished companion. Listen here>


[1] Grief Recovery (UK) –



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