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Barking mad? – Pet Bereavement Leave and Pawternity

BY Daniel Gorry
Employment Law & HR

Last month, Glaswegian Emma McNulty started an online campaign asking for pet bereavement leave after she was dismissed for not turning up to work following the death of her dog Millie. The teenager had informed her employer in the morning that she was too devastated to attend work but was fired for gross misconduct after she failed to find cover for her shift. Miss McNulty is now campaigning for employers to treat pet bereavement in the same way as human bereavement, arguing that a family pet has as much importance as a human family member.  

So what does the law say?

All employees are entitled to “time off for dependants”. This is a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies involving a dependant, including leave to arrange or attend a funeral. A “dependant” is defined as a spouse, civil partner, child or parent of the employee, or those who reasonably rely on the employee in certain circumstances. Sadly, for Ms McNulty a pet does not fall within this definition.

However, employers should be wary as bereavement affects people in different ways. Employers should be mindful of an employee’s mental wellbeing when an upsetting situation is affecting them outside of the workplace.

ACAS has commented on this, stating that “the death of a beloved pet can impact a worker’s mental health and a good employer should be sensitive and mindful of their employees’ wellbeing”.

In a similar vein, there is a growing trend amongst companies to offer “Pawternity Leave”. Companies such as Brew Dog are now offering one week’s leave for employees when they welcome a new four-legged family member.

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