Sacked worker calls for bereavement leave when family pets die

Millie and Emma McNultyImage source, Emma McNulty
Image caption,
Emma McNulty described the death of Millie as like "losing a member of the family"

A woman who says she was sacked on the same day her family dog died has started a campaign for bereavement leave when employees lose their pets.

Emma McNulty, from Glasgow, said she was too upset to work after her terrier Millie died at the weekend.

She claims she was physically sick with grief, but the 18-year-old student was told to find cover or risk dismissal.

Unable to find a replacement, she said her part-time job in a sandwich shop was terminated.

Ms McNulty described the death of Millie as like "losing a member of the family".

She has started a petition asking for employers to recognise pet bereavement in the same way as a human family member.

Her online petition has already gained more than 700 supporters.

"I was sacked on the same day as I lost my dog," she said.

"Millie was 14 and I am 18, so I don't remember a time when she wasn't part of my life.

"We did everything together. I was so close to her and she was my best pal."

Image source, Emma McNulty
Image caption,
Emma McNulty's beloved per Millie died unexpectedly

Ms McNulty added: "She became ill on Saturday night and we had to have her put to sleep on Sunday. I was devastated, distraught and physically sick.

"I thought my employer would show a bit of compassion. Instead I was told to find cover and that if I didn't come in I would risk dismissal.

"When I told them I couldn't find a replacement I was told not to show up for any other shifts and that the boss would be in touch."

Ms McNulty said she was dismissed for not turning up for a planned shift.

Since starting her online petition she has received dozens of messages of support.

Daniel Taylor wrote: "Dogs are family. You should be allowed to grieve for them too."

Tracy Rawding added: "Pets are family members and the grief is very real."

And Geraldine Kennedy posted: "This is no different to losing a human family member. Our animals mean more to us than our human family and we should be allowed the same time to grieve their loss."

Image source, Emma McNulty
Image caption,
Inseparable: Millie and Emma McNulty

Arbitration service Acas has produced guidance for employers around bereavement.

It says: "Grief impacts on the emotional, physical, spiritual and psychological well-being of the person who is bereaved. At any time research indicates one in 10 employees is likely to be affected by bereavement.

"Bereavement in the workplace can be challenging to manage: employees may need to take time off unexpectedly; find their performance is impacted, or be temporarily unable to perform certain roles.

"However, a compassionate and supportive approach demonstrates that the organisation values its employees, helps build commitment, reduce sickness absence, and retain the workforce."

Diane James, pet bereavement support service manager at Blue Cross, said: "We fully support understanding employers who offer bereavement leave to allow time for pet owners to come to terms with their loss.

"We have been helping pet owners for 25 years and are contacted by over 12,000 devastated pet owners every year who are struggling to cope."

Compassionate leave and pets - what's the law?

As an employee, you have a right to time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant.

A dependant could be a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or someone who depends on you for care. However, it is unlikely a pet would be included in this benefit.

According to the UK government website, compassionate leave can be granted by an employer as paid or unpaid leave for emergency situations.

However, this is at the discretion of the employer. The site advises checking your employment contract, company handbook or intranet for details about the company's policy on compassionate leave.

A spokesman for Acas said: "The law gives a day one right for an employee to have reasonable time off work to deal with a bereavement involving a dependant.

"Bereavement is a very personal issue and can affect different people in different ways.

"Pets are not specifically mentioned within workplace bereavement legislation but 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."

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