If your pet has recently passed away or you’re anticipating that unwelcome day, more than likely you’re also struggling to work, and if so, you’re not alone. Many report feeling disoriented, distracted, and unable to focus on work. Yet at the same time, they’re embarrassed to ask for time off of work because they’re afraid they’ll not be understood (our ugly friend, disenfranchised grief). It’s difficult to have to explain the power of pet loss to those who lack sympathy for the magnitude of the challenge.
But we know that going through pet loss is a huge deal. In fact, some mental health professionals recommend that people need several days to a week away from work in order to recover from the initial shock of the loss. What’s more, according to a 2009 study of 106 pet owners by the Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 1 in 3 people need six months to grieve the loss of a pet.
True, if you work with sympathetic people who will support you through your pet loss, then going into work might be very therapeutic for you. But what if that’s not the case? How do you go about asking your boss for time off to grieve your lost pet?
The first step is planning for time off work in advance – if you have that luxury. If you can see what’s coming, do take the time to prepare for this phase of your pet’s journey so that your employer will not be surprised when you need some time away from the office. But don’t worry, there are ways to ask for time off work even if you aren’t able to plan ahead… And that’s the second step – doing the actual asking.
Ideas for Petitioning for Pet Bereavement Leave
If you just don’t want to talk to anyone and need some time to process your grief, then consider these strategies for asking for time off from work during pet loss:
1. Look for a pet bereavement policy:
Believe it or not, there are some companies today that already offer leave specifically for pet loss! While these are often pet-related companies (such a vet offices, pet stores, and pet health insurance companies), there are others like Mars Inc., Kimpton (a hotel and restaurant company), and Maxwell Health that offer such perks. You may find that your employer is actually more open to giving pet loss the respect it deserves, so don’t be afraid to ask. And if none exists, consider lobbying your employer to add one – not only would doing so legitimize the grief of those who lose pets, it would pave the way for others to go through the process more easily in the future.
2. Ask about traditional compassionate or bereavement leave:
If bereavement leave is not on the books specifically for pet loss, find out what your company’s traditional bereavement leave policy is and to whom it applies. If the policy is not that specific, ask some questions to see whether you could use this leave after losing a pet.
3. Time off for dependents:
In some regions (such as the UK), people can take time off for tending to the needs of dependents (children, grandparents, partners, etc). If your employer does offer this benefit, you may find they include pets in the category of dependents. Do a little digging to find out if this option will work for you. You’ll also need to ask whether this applies only to time off for critical illness or also to time off for griefwork.
4. Find out about paid time off days:
Does your employer offer PTO or vacation leave that you can use at your discretion? If so, are you permitted to make last-minute arrangements to use this time to mourn your pet? This kind of leave policy may actually be preferable to using the other types as it levels the playing field – if anyone can book time off regardless of their personal needs, you can do so as well during pet loss without inviting resentment from your coworkers (non pet owners may feel negatively at a pet bereavement policy if they are not afforded similar perks).
5. Use sick days:
If you’re comfortable with the idea of using sick time to mourn your animal companion, that this may be your best choice when all else fails. Whether you explain your situation or not, at least using sick time will give you a little breathing room so that you can return to work with a little more focus and energy.
Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the impact pet loss may have on you. If you’ve exhausted all of the above options and still have no way to take time off of work, speak with your employer and explain your individual needs. Perhaps you can find some accommodation that would work for both of you. Even more importantly, be sure to seek out the other pet lovers in your workplace so that you know where to go for compassionate support when you most need it.