Updated Apr 11, 2024 - Business

With pets becoming family, bereavement leave gains steam

Illustration of a pet collar with the metallic ID stylized as a clock.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

While some companies have established pet-friendly policies as ownership rates soar, very few offer time off when their animal companions pass away.

Why it matters: Pet ownership skyrocketed during the pandemic, with the growth rate doubling post-COVID when compared to 2019, according to the American Pet Products Association.

  • Even with more people working remotely, companies have been re-evaluating policies to incorporate bereavement leave for employees who have embraced furry friends as family.

There has been a commensurate rise in the availability of support resources for dealing with a pet loss in recent years. Certain providers are experiencing increased demand for their services, The New York Times reported in February.

Yes, but: Only a handful of employers have implemented such adjustments in their policies.

Flashback: A 12-hour conference held in Los Angeles last year reflected the existing employee pet benefits, Bloomberg reported in May. Those include "pawternity," bereavement days, dog-boarding in the office, discounted insurance, and bringing furry companions to work.

  • Google, Imax, Starbucks, United Airlines, Walmart, Whole Foods and Zoom were among those at the conference discussing the opportunity to include more workplace support for pets.
  • Tech giants like Google and Amazon allow workers to bring their pet dogs to work; since 1999, they've even adopted a "take your dog to work day"

The big picture: Even as more workers returned to the office, pet ownership has remained elevated, according to ASPCA data, and those numbers are unlikely to taper off any time soon.

  • Almost one in five Americans adopted a dog or a cat, most popular pets in the U.S., between 2020 and 2021, according to the organization.

What they're saying: "I don't think that we're comfortable with grief. There's a lot of shame in talking about it" Erika Sinner, CEO of Directorie and author of "Pets Are Family", tells Axios.

  • "We can't normalize something if we don't talk about it," she says.
  • This might be a reason why there are no federal laws in place around bereavement leave, in general. Currently, only five states (California, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon and Washington) offer some sort of bereavement leave policies.
  • Sinner, who has personally experienced the loss of her dog, suggests that societal norms are evolving. That is reshaping priorities and redefining the concept of a family structure, so new policies should be considered in workplaces, she argues.

By the numbers: As pet ownership rates soar, a 2023 survey Pew Research study found that 62 percent of Americans are pet owners and nearly 97 percent of these consider pets as part of their family.

  • And a little over half (51 percent) also say they are as much a part of the family as a human member.

The bottom line: "It's a great way to signal to the new generation of workforce to show that you care about them beyond their job titles and that you understand that life outside of work impacts them at work," Sinner said.

  • "I think a nice way to do that is to have a policy that's black and white."
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