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Bereavement and dismissal

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https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/08/15/worker-sacked-refused-go-work-following-death-dog-claims-bereavement/

cat on lap
cat on lap

An interesting article in the Telegraph last week which will, no doubt, provoke many thoughts and reactions from its readers.

As a pet owner myself, I know I’d be devastated if/when my kitty leaves me (if even she regularly tries to trip me up at the top of the stairs – the little minx!). However, the employer, in this case, was justified in dismissing the employee for failing to follow a reasonable instruction, i.e. to attend work. The ironic part is that the employee could have called in sick and the employer would not have known – not that I advocate that approach.

Currently, there is no automatic right to bereavement/compassionate leave for humans, whether paid or unpaid, unless the employer has a policy and the employee follows it. However, the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 seeks to redress the balance somewhat – more commentary to follow…

Regardless, most employers don’t require formality once they learn of a bereavement and simply grant some time off (sometimes paid, or unpaid, or a combination of the two). Reasonableness helps to avoid breaching the implied term of trust and confidence in the employment relationship and any potential claim.

Including pets within the scope of bereavement policy might be a step too far, but an employer may wish to consider the situation where:-

·      The employee does not have any close/immediate family, or any surviving relatives; and/or

·      Their pet could be considered as their only family or even a “dependant”.

Consideration could be given to expanding the “time off for dependants’ legislation”. After all, employment case law focuses on the concept of “reasonableness” and what a “reasonable employer” would do.

From a well-being perspective, granting the employee some unpaid time off for the death of a pet may well help them to:-

·      cope with their loss more quickly; and

·      focus on work and productivity once again.

It’s about striking the balance to get the best out of the employment relationship – we’ve known about the benefits of introducing pets to the workplace for well-being, so why not consider the wider picture?

Let me have your thoughts!

DISCLAIMER: This document is intended to be a guide to the current law only. It does not constitute legal advice and you are not entitled to rely upon it. You should always take proper legal advice relating to your own situation before acting.

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