Rise Of Pet Bereavement: Should Employees Have Time Off To Mourn Beloved Animals?

🗝️ Key Takeaways

  • Recognition of Pet Bereavement in the Workplace: More companies are beginning to recognize the impact of pet loss on their employees and are adapting their policies to include pet bereavement leave.
  • Empathy-Driven Leadership: Erika Sinner, CEO of Directorie, emphasizes the importance of empathy in leadership, particularly in how companies handle pet bereavement.
  • Training and Support for Managers: The report highlights the necessity for managers to receive training and resources to effectively support employees grieving the loss of a pet.

Grief is real. Grief is normal. Grief is painful. It isn’t limited to human loss. Grief transcends the boundaries of humanity and can hit hard when a pet dies. In the workplace, bereavement leave is unquestionably a necessary allowance for employees. Usually, an official policy exists to make sure individuals have the space they need to grieve and make arrangements. But what happens when a pet dies? Typically, employees aren’t given the same space for pet bereavement. More workplaces are changing that policy, and one expert says it should be commonplace in the modern office.

Erika Sinner, mother of four fur babies and CEO of Directorie, refers to herself not as Chief Executive Officer, but “Chief Empathy Officer.” An expert on pet loss and grief, one of the ways Sinner brings empathy into the workplace is by offering her employees pet bereavement leave. Though relatively uncommon, pet bereavement leave​ іs gradually gaining attention​ as companies recognize the importance​ оf supporting employees during times​ of grief.

And in today’s society, many adults would rather have fluffy family members than human ones. According to one study, approximately 70 percent of today’s generation is more likely to have pet than kids. Overall, 81 percent of millennial pet owners say they love their pet more than at least one family member.

This, as Sinner adds, means that pets genuinely are family members and, moreover, the grief individuals feel when a pet dies should be treated as such. She tells StudyFinds that when leaders operate from a place of empathy — truly caring about the mental health of their employees — companies and individuals can thrive. 

Empathy Driven Leadership Normalizes Grief

While​ іt remains rare,​ a handful​ оf employers have implemented policies​ tо address this need. Among those are Mars Inc., known for its confectionery and pet food products, which provides various forms​ оf support such​ as days off, flexible hours,​ оr remote work options for employees coping with the loss​ оf​ a pet. Similarly, Kimpton Hotels​ & Restaurants​ іn San Francisco stands out​ as one​ оf the pioneers, offering​ a generous three-day pet bereavement leave.

Despite these progressive initiatives, the concept​ оf pet bereavement leave still remains relatively new for most workplaces.

So, how can employers empathetically support employees walking through the loss of a pet in meaningful ways? Welcoming and kind, it’s easy to see that Sinner not only believes in empathetic leadership, she embodies it. Speaking candidly about her own grief and how it moved her to engage more thoughtfully with her employees’ mental health, she says that the first step is acknowledging the pain. Then, employers should consider giving employees additional time off to mourn.

Sinner opens up about her own experience with grief without hesitation, recalling that after Kingston’s passing, she was surprised by the magnitude of her pain. “I was more traumatized over my dog [passing] than human beings that I have lost in my life”. And, according to others, she is not alone. From taking them on vacation to prioritizing their mental health over other family members, pet owners have made it evident that their pets are family.

Sinner’s passion is palpable. “I really just believe pets are family. I think they’re part of your everyday life. They’re part of your routine. Everywhere you walk in your house, you have a memory of them or they’re doing something.” She continues, “Some of them sleep in your bed. I don’t know how you get any more close than that.” 

Veterinarian working with worried dog owner
Losing a pet can be just as devastating as losing a family member. More workplaces are giving employees pet bereavement to help them in their time of mourning. (© pressmaster – stock.adobe.com)

Pet Bereavement Movement

Just like when we lose a family member or friend, people need time to grieve their pets as well. This may mean allowing for lenience in the workplace to step away and take time off to process your loss fully. This not only helps the employee but shines an empathetic light on the company and management as a whole which creates a healthy dynamic between both parties.

I would say even having a single day in a policy in black and white signals to your employee, their life outside of work impacts them. Truly just even that says, yes, we understand that it hurts,” says Sinner.

Traditionally, bereavement leave was meant to give those closest to the family member time and space to plan a funeral and take care of any associated tasks. In the case of pet bereavement, this still holds true on some level. From the difficult decision of euthanasia to the last days and burial of our beloved furry friends, pet bereavement leave is just as important.

To help make this a reality in more workplaces, managers need more resources and training about how to support workers going through pet loss. Sinner believes that managers aren’t equipped to really lean into and potentially meet the mental and emotional needs of their coworkers. How can this be accomplished? “Actually having one-on-ones, asking your employees, how are you doing?” she suggests.

Considering most pet owners see their pet as a dependable source of comfort, seek them out when distressed, feel enjoyment in their presence and miss them when apart, it can make it harder to mourn a pet. Simply asking an employee how they are doing can mean so much to someone experiencing the loss of their pet.

But, what if not everyone is comfortable expressing their feelings? Sinner says “send an email, a Slack message, a text message. A way of saying, ‘Hey, I can tell something’s going on. You totally don’t have to talk to me about it. I just want you to know that I’m here for you,’ or, ‘I hope everything is okay.’” 

Grief In The Workplace

It is also important to consider incorporating training around how managers can speak to coworkers when they do open up about grief. It can be difficult to know how to respond when a friend or coworker is experiencing loss.

Sinner adds that having “some sort of training around how to react when an employee gives you the news goes a long way. When somebody says, ‘Oh my God, my dog just died. I’m really upset. I don’t know if I can work today,’ even teaching a manager to just pause, breathe, listen to the information, take in what is happening, and then have a calmer response [is important].”

Many pet owners who have experienced grief of losing a pet have also experienced disenfranchised grief, or grief that society tends to ignore. No employee should have to feel embarrassed or insecure about communicating with employers about their grief and needs when a pet dies.

“And really the truth is, it is real pain and it is okay to talk about it. [With Kingston] There was never a bad memory. It’s unconditional love,” Sinner says. “And pets really do have a way of going into the places of your heart that you wouldn’t ever trust a human being to go.”

The loss of a pet is a deep kind of pain that should not be ignored. For Sinner, her fur babies are not fur babies at all. They are her babies, plain and simple.

In her new book, “Pets Are Family,” Sinner outlines why it is important for employers to invest in the mental health of their employees, and how they can implement policies like pet bereavement leave. Throughout the book, Sinner draws from her own experience grieving the loss of her beloved fur baby, Kingston.

Pets are Family: It's as simple as that.
“Pets are Family: It’s as simple as that.” on Amazon

Are you grieving the loss of a pet? Have you experienced empathy at work? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. 


  1. Of course people should be allowed time off. Losing a companion animal can be just as, if not more so, devastating than losing a friend.Pets are there 24/7, while no human friend is.

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