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Pet Bereavement: Guidance for Working Pet Parents and Employers

Blog Home Aug 13, 2021

As a nation of pet lovers and with animal ownership in the UK now at an all-time high, here at Itch we’ve launched a campaign to encourage employers to introduce a pet bereavement leave policy. Our research finds that nearly three quarters (74%) of Brits agree their furry friend is a valued member of the family. Therefore, it’s easy to understand how losing a pet can have a significant impact on working pet parents.  

Our campaign has been inspired by the efforts of Emma McNulty, who in 2019 famously petitioned for the introduction of pet bereavement leave after she was sacked from her job for calling in sick when her dog passed away. 

We are now picking up the mantle and launching a drive to inspire national change to ensure pet parents are treated with sensitivity around this emotive subject, which is often misunderstood and sometimes even mocked.

By providing a helpful downloadable guide for employers, we hope we have made it as easy as possible for workplaces to implement paid leave for their employees if or when their pet dies. 

Pet ownership in the UK

As pet ownership in the UK continues to rise, it’s clear to see that pets have made their way to the top of the pack in the family home, with over two in five (43%) stating their pet means as much to them as their friends and family. 

As a nation, the impact pet loss has on us cannot be underestimated, with over half (58%) of pet owners thinking the death of a pet is just as hard to deal with as a human one. 

Grieving the loss of a pet

Robin Grey, Itch panellist, counsellor, psychotherapist and author of ‘Coping with Pet Loss’ provides the following advice to help you cope following the loss of a beloved pet:

  • Go easy on yourself in the days, weeks and months after the loss. Be kind to yourself and recognise that pet loss is a very intimate and personal loss
  • Don’t rush into getting a new pet. Wait until you are ready
  • Consider having a ceremony or remembrance for your pet as a positive way of marking their gift to you in life
  • Accept that not everyone may understand the loss you are going through
  • See your loss as being valid and important to mourn
  • Talk to people you trust

What can employers do to help?

Even though there’s no legal requirement to give people time off when a pet dies, 74% of people in the UK think employers should have a pet bereavement policy in place.

Our research found that nearly half of people asked (45%) didn’t tell their employer when their pet passed away, but for those that did, over one in ten (13%) stated their employer showed no sympathy, 9% actively made fun of them or bullied them for being upset and 6% even laughed at them during their time of need. 

Guidance for employers

Having a pet is a central part of many employees’ well-being as pets can often meet both our physical and emotional needs. Many employees view their pets as being part of the family and they should be viewed with the same importance. 

Pet loss can lead to stress and distraction, possibly poor performance and can enhance any existing depression or low mood. Pet loss may also follow a stressful period where pets have been ill and this may have led to employees showing stress or worry at work. 

With this in mind, we spoke to Robin Grey about what employers can do to create an environment where their staff feel comfortable and supported during their time of need.

  • Although not a legal requirement, offering compassionate leave when a pet dies can support employees and help with any subsequent depression. Pet loss can be a central challenge to employees’ wellbeing. Having a considered, consistent, and sensitive response to pet loss is important for any wellbeing agenda
  • Try not to dismiss an employee’s sadness and grief if it appears that they have had a recent loss. Having support from work may be the only place that it is validated 
  • Every employee’s situation is different, as will be the way in which they process their grief, and it’s important this is respected by employers 
  • Employees may only wish to talk about their loss in a supervised meeting. Employees should be offered the option to meet in a safe and confidential way 

It is important for pet owners to feel that their loss is not unnoticed or invisible, especially if there has been a deep bond. As an employer, it’s about creating a strong relationship with your employees so that they feel able to share their loss with their manager and know they will have a compassionate response. The length of the grieving period following pet loss can vary, but for many, it is a significant and often acute loss to process. 

We’ve put together a handy guide with everything an employer needs to know about implementing a pet bereavement policy within their business. Click here to download and get started today.