Belfast Telegraph

Animal sanctuary owner and Retail NI boss back call to give grieving pet owners time off

Emma McNulty
Emma McNulty
Emma's dog Millie
Glyn Roberts
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A local animal sanctuary owner and a retail boss have backed calls to give bereaved pet owners time off work.

Emma McNulty (18) from Glasgow was sacked from her fast-food job on the same day she had to unexpectedly put down her beloved 14-year-old Scottish Terrier Millie.

She had told her manager she was too upset to come into work, but said she was instead told not to come back after she couldn't find anyone to cover her shift.

Now more than 4,700 people have signed an online petition calling on employers to allow bereavement leave after the death of a pet.

"Instead of being shown the compassion and sympathy stated in the contract, I was sent a number of nasty messages and told I had to cover my shift as no bereavement time was allowed for pets," she wrote on the petition.

"I think it's disgusting how some companies think it's acceptable to treat someone in this way with no remorse, a family pet has just as much importance as a human family member.

"It's time companies acknowledged this and give people the time they need to grieve with no worry of losing their job."

Olivia Kennedy runs the Lucy's Trust dog sanctuary and backed Ms McNulty's petition.

In June she helped organise Northern Ireland's first ever pet bereavement service at Belfast Castle.

"I do think this should be supported in Northern Ireland. Like everything else, there will be those who abuse it, but for many it will offer a lifeline to gather themselves before having to face the public or co-workers again."

She added: "The pressure to stay at work after the loss of a beloved companion not only undermines the bond that people have with their pets, it is also detrimental to their mental health, both in the undermining of their love and in the dismissal of their feelings.

"Death and the grieving process is unique to each of us, and we should be afforded the time to do so.

"In a time where mental health policy and awareness is growing, it would be foolhardy to ignore this very important aspect of it."

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, said he supported giving employees time off but didn't think a change in the law was needed.

"I think most good employers, especially small employers who have small teams, would be flexible if something like this happens," he said.

"I think common sense tells you that most employers would be sympathetic to some degree.

"It's something that should be taken case by case. I know many of our members are small retailers who would be sympathetic.

"I have a number of employees with pets and I do understand how important they can be."

Since starting the petition, many pet owners have shared their own experiences with Ms McNulty.

Jackie Clark said: "My two beautiful dogs passed away within two weeks of each other last year and I took time off work. They were no different to my own children. I still cry today."

Lindsey Davie commented: "My pets are my family. The 'no leave' policy just encourages people to go sick, so businesses refusing it are very short-sighted. I wonder how much it cost the employer in this case to recruit and train someone new? More than one shift's wages I would guess."

The arbitration service Acas has published guidance for employers on dealing with bereavement.

"Grief impacts on the emotional, physical, spiritual and psychological wellbeing of the person who is bereaved. At any time research indicates one in 10 employees is likely to be affected by bereavement," it said.

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

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