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Bereavement Leave for Pets: What It Is & How It Works

Written by: Jessica Kim

Last Updated on February 15, 2024 by Dogster Team

Man hugging golden retriever before surgery

Bereavement Leave for Pets: What It Is & How It Works

Pets are beloved members of the family, so it’s very sad and often painful when they pass away. The loss of a pet can cause a significant amount of grief, and it can be difficult trying to get anything done, especially within the first few days of their death. If going to work is difficult for you, you may want to ask your company about bereavement leave. While not all companies are required to have a bereavement leave policy, some may offer it, and it can extend to family pets.

Bereavement leave is highly individualized and varies from company to company because there’s no federal law that requires it. Therefore, the best way to get information on it is to speak with your employer’s HR department. Here’s some general information about bereavement leave for pets and how you might be able to request it from your employer.

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How Does It Work?

Bereavement leave allows people to take time off of work after a family member has passed away. They can use this time to prepare funeral arrangements, manage family affairs, and take time to grieve. The absence of a standard federal law for bereavement leave puts this type of employment leave in a gray area. Different companies will have individualized policies on bereavement leave, while some may not offer it at all.

The length of bereavement leave varies. Some companies offer 2 days, while others will offer 2 weeks. Also, the types of family members that you can take bereavement leave for varies. Some policies only cover immediate family members while some cover extended family members, but most don’t include pets.

You’ll have to speak with your company’s human resources department to get a full understanding of its bereavement leave policies. If your company does have a bereavement leave policy, make sure to ask if it offers any work compensation. Most bereavement leaves are unpaid, so it’s important to prepare yourself to budget accordingly.

Woman crying while looking at photograph frame
Image Credit: takasu, Shutterstock

What States Have Bereavement Leave Laws?

Bereavement leave policies will vary from state to state. Some states don’t require businesses to offer bereavement leave, while others do.

For example, as of last year, only five states have enacted some sort of bereavement leave policies:1

  • California
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Oregon
  • Washington

A handful of states have some sort of active legislation for bereavement leave:

  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

Keep in mind that bereavement leave and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are two different things, and bereavement doesn’t fall under FMLA. FMLA offers job-protected time off work for up to 12 or 26 weeks in a 12-month period. Circumstances that are eligible under FMLA usually involve caring for a family member experiencing a significant illness or hardship. Employees who have a serious health condition that makes them unable to do their jobs can also request medical leave.

Since much of FMLA focuses on caring for an existing health issue or difficult circumstance, bereavement leave doesn’t fall under FMLA. It’s also important to note that not all businesses are required to offer bereavement leave, even if they operate in a state with bereavement leave policies. For example, in Illinois, only businesses with 50 or more employees are required to give bereavement leave to their employees. These employees must have also worked a certain number of hours to gain eligibility.

woman consoling his colleague at work
Image Credit: – Yuri A, Shutterstock

Where Is It Used?

Bereavement leave is used after a family member has passed away. Once a family member passes away, you can request time off, and your company will determine how many days of unpaid leave you’ll receive, depending on its policy.

Unfortunately, you may not be able to request bereavement leave for all cases in which a loved one passes away. Many businesses will only offer bereavement leave after a family member passes away and not offer it for friends or distant relatives. On top of that, different businesses will have their own definitions of who qualifies as a family member. For example, some companies may only provide bereavement leave for the passing of an immediate family member, such as a spouse, sibling, or child.

It’s actually uncommon for a company to offer bereavement leave for pets. Therefore, it’s important to ask your employer about the specific details of their bereavement policy and what they consider to be family members.

Advantages of Bereavement Leave for Pets

Pets often offer emotional support, so their absence can take a toll on people’s mental health. Therefore, if your company has bereavement leave for pets, it’s often helpful to take some time off to take care of your emotional well-being and mental health. Grieving over the loss of a pet is a very normal thing. Some people will also take this time to plan a memorial for their pet or clean up and remove any unneeded pet supplies from their homes.

Woman holding mortuary urn and frame with picture of dog on table
Image Credit: Pixel-Shot, Shutterstock

Disadvantages of Bereavement Leave for Pets

While bereavement leave for pets offers job-protected time off work, it’s still unpaid. So, you’ll have to make sure that you have a sustainable amount of funds that can cover you for the amount of time you don’t work. Some companies may only offer a couple of days for bereavement leave, which may feel like too little for some. Bereavement leave policies may also be rigid and not provide extensions if you need more time away from work.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Can I Do If My Job Doesn’t Have Bereavement Leave for Pets?

Fortunately, there are several alternative things you can do if your company doesn’t have bereavement leave for pets. It’s best to speak with your HR department and explain your situation to them. Some companies may offer compassionate leave, even if they don’t have a formal bereavement leave policy. Compassionate leave can be either paid or unpaid time off work.

You may also request to use your paid time off hours. While companies often require advanced notice for paid time off, your employer may make an exception for you to miss a couple of days of work, especially if you’re not in a busy season.

Some employers may be willing to make a compromise and let you work from home for a couple of days or adjust your work hours. Because there are multiple solutions, it doesn’t hurt to have a conversation with your employer to come up with a solution that satisfies both parties.

two women talking in the meeting
Image Credit: fizkes, Shutterstock

Does a Pet Death Qualify as a Family Emergency?

A family emergency typically refers to an event that significantly impacts your family’s health, well-being, or safety. A dying pet is often a traumatic experience, especially for children. You’ll also have to inform your veterinarian and decide how you want to transport your pet. So, a pet death often does qualify as a family emergency because it requires making immediate decisions.

What Should I Do if a Co-Worker’s Pet Dies?

Humans and animals can form special bonds, and people can experience significant grief after their pets die. You can offer your condolences to your co-worker and write them a simple sympathy card. They’ll appreciate knowing that you can validate and care about their loss.

People will grieve and react differently to the loss of a pet. So, it’s helpful to ask your co-worker about how they’d like to be treated at work while they grieve. Some people may want to be left alone, while others will want space to talk about their pets. People can also use work as a distraction, so they may not want anyone to mention anything about their pets to them.

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Bereavement leave for pets allows pet owners to take time off work after their pet dies. However, it’s not required by federal law. So, make sure to ask your employer if they offer bereavement leave and if it applies to pet deaths. Because the loss of a pet is significant, it’s best to be preemptive and know your options. It may not be pleasant to think about, but it’ll help you immensely in the future and enable you to know exactly what to do when you experience the loss of a pet.

Featured Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

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