Why won’t my employer give me a day off to grieve for my dog?

With over 20 million domestic cats and dogs in the UK, it’s safe to say that we’re a nation of pet lovers.

22nd August 2019

It can be extremely upsetting when a beloved pet passes away. When a student from Glasgow took a day off work to mourn the death of her 14-year-old dog, she lost her job, prompting her to start a petition demanding that employees be allowed a short period to grieve after a pet has passed away.

DAS Law’s Miquelle Groves runs through exactly what the law says about this matter.

My pet has just passed away. Do I have the right to time off work?

People are not always aware of this but in most situations, there is no automatic right to time off for anyone when a loved one dies. This applies to family members, loved ones, friends and pets.

You do have the right to ‘time off for dependants’. This is unpaid time off to deal with an unforeseen situation or emergency involving a dependant, and can include time off to arrange and attend funerals. A dependant could be a spouse, child or parent, essentially anyone living in the property or someone that you care for.

A new law is expected to come in to force in April 2020 (Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay) which is a breakthrough for those suffering from bereavements; it is the first time that the law recognises the need for us to need time to grieve.

However, the Act only goes as far as to protect parents who lose a child under 18 by giving them 2 weeks leave. This law does not cover the loss of a pet.

So with no changes in the law that extend beyond the loss of children or where the deceased is not classed as a ‘dependant’, we do not have the legal right to time off work where a pet passes away.

So it would have to be in my contract of employment?

That would be the only way of being sure that you’ll be permitted to take time off in this situation. Although there is no ‘right’ to time off in law, a contract of employment may provide for this entitlement.

Some contracts allow for a specific period of time off whilst others may allow at a manager’s discretion. The same applies with regards to pay; any time off granted could be paid or unpaid depending on the contract or your manager’s discretion.

Can my employer deny me time off?

With no legal entitlement, and if there is no contractual entitlement, then yes, time off can be refused. If time off is granted by an employer at their discretion, they must apply this allowance consistently to treat all employees the same.

If an employer grants time off for one employee and subsequently denies you the time off, this could result in you being able to raise a grievance.

If my employer says no, what are my options?

If possible, speak to your employers, explain all of the circumstances, and discuss using annual leave allowance or the possibility of taking unpaid leave.

Would the type of pet and how long I’ve had it make a difference?

Whether you own a dog, cat, parrot or pig, the type of animal does not affect the entitlement (or lack thereof). Neither does it matter whether you have had the pet for a few days or several decades.

If I am fired, can I make a claim for unfair dismissal?

Although it may seem unfair, it is possible that a dismissal could be fair and this depends on the employment and all of the circumstances.

If you have less than 2 years’ service then there is no entitlement to bring a claim for unfair dismissal (Employment Rights Act 1996).

However, if you have more than 2 years’ service then you may argue unfair dismissal if your employer has not relied upon a ‘fair reason’, or if they have not followed a fair procedure.

If you took the time off without consent and were dismissed, then it is likely the employer has dismissed you for unauthorised absence. Whilst you could argue unfair dismissal, given that unauthorised absence can be considered gross misconduct, an employment tribunal may consider the dismissal fair.

The employer would need to take in to account all of the circumstances to determine whether dismissal is a reasonable response to you taking the time off.

Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.

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