Many people are very fond of their pets and consider them furry members of the family. (Photo: iStock)
people are very fond of their pets and consider them furry members of
the family. As a result, a number of organizations are starting to
recognize — through extended leaves — the grief experienced by employees
following the loss of a pet.
Shoppers Drug Mart considers pets to be part of the family and is
flexible in its application of its bereavement leave benefit, according
to Lana Gogas, manager of communications and corporate affairs for
Shoppers Drug Mart in Toronto.
“Shoppers Drug Mart offers flexibility to employees who are dealing with
a death in the family and this includes pets,” she said.
“Appreciating that each instance is unique, the employee and his or her
manager can establish an appropriate length of time away from the office
to deal with grieving.”
In the United States, employers such as pet insurance provider
Trupanion, health and benefits company Maxwell Health, software company
VM Ware and Kimpton hotels provide similar programs to employees,
according to CBS News.
While pets are excluded from the definitions of immediately family in
both federal and Ontario employment standards legislation, it is not
inconceivable this exclusion could change, said Marc Kitay, employment
and labour lawyer at Whitten & Lublin Employment Lawyers in
“There is a growing movement to characterize animals as ‘sentient
beings’ as opposed to ‘chattels’ and some jurisdictions have already
begun moving in this direction,” he said.
“As the zeitgeist gradually moves towards treating pets as family
members, and acknowledging the strong emotional bonds between pet and
owner, change may someday find itself on the horizon.”
In December 2015, for example, the Quebec national assembly passed Bill
54, An Act to improve the legal situation of animals by announcing they
are no longer property:
“Animals are not things. They are sentient beings and have biological needs.”
It also said “the condition of animals has become a social concern,”
“animals contribute to the quality of life in Quebec society” and “the
human species has an individual and collective responsibility to ensure
animal welfare and safety.”
“Quebec was considerably behind in terms of animal welfare. This bill
represents a positive legislative evolution that reflects advances in
our society,” said Pierre Paradis, minister of agriculture, fisheries
Aligning policy with cultural changes
To attract and retain the best talent, organizations need to align
policies and procedures with the workplace culture and make sure that
culture is focused on issues most important to the people in the
workforce they are attempting to attract, according to Janet Salopek,
partner and senior consultant at Salopek & Associates in Calgary.
“We’re challenging the definitions and starting to talk about a
different outlook on how we have traditionally administered some of our
policies and procedures,” she said.
“It’s discussions like this that will help employers think about their
policies, their procedures and how they’re defining work when they write
their policies. If we’re trying to improve that level of engagement
within our organizations we need to look at changing our policies.”
One of those changes could very well be the inclusion of pets as immediate family under bereavement leave benefits, she said.
“The definition is changing and it’s evolving. Legislation is being very
careful and organizations are being very careful that they’re not
discriminatory. We’re broadening our definition of family to become more
Doing it right
If an organization does decide to expand its bereavement leave to
include pets, it is important for employers to remember expanding
bereavement leave does not change the way the benefit is enforced, said
“In Ontario, the (Employment Standards Act) calls for the employee to
provide evidence that is ‘reasonable’ in the circumstances, if the
employer requests it. In practice though, for most employers, it is
likely acceptable for an employee to simply inform the employer about
the family member’s death,” he said.
Employers concerned about potential abuse of this type of benefit should
be sure to reflect any changes in their written policy and ensure the
policy and process of the benefit are consistently applied, said Lisa
Kay, president and lead consultant of Peak Performance Human Resources
It’s also crucial to consider the way the entire workforce will be
affected by an expanded bereavement leave benefit used only by a certain
group, said Kay.
“The people who are eligible are appreciative and grateful and they are
able to take advantage of this and it’s good for them but I think the
other side of the coin is their colleagues, who are now in a position to
pick up the slack or having to take on an additional workload during
this leave period. Helping other employees to transition the work in a
way that’s not going to negatively affect the rest of the workforce is
going to be important,” she said.
“Employers really need to be sensitive about that.”
It is also crucial workers are protected, said Kitay. An employee’s
tenure, seniority and length of service must continue throughout the
leave and the employee cannot be permanently replaced.
Furthermore, an employer that provides a benefits plan will have to continue contributions when a worker is on leave.
When examining an issue such as the expansion of bereavement leave, said
Kay, sensitivity is something employers should strive for.
“In general, people have become more accepting of the idea that family
is not the traditional definition that it was 40 years ago. That’s
expanded so we need to be sensitive to it.”
It is important for an employer to apply that sensitivity to every
aspect of workplace culture, not just to the issue of a bereavement
leave policy, said Salopek.
“What’s really important, and I think we’re seeing it more and more, is
placing your policies and procedures in alignment with your value
propositions,” said Salopek.
“You hear a lot of forward-thinking organizations speaking about their
value proposition because they understand that, in order to compete in
the labour market today, they have to pay attention to that.” -
— Read the full article at HRReporter.com