Varsity’s pet bereavement leave in for a ruff legal time
But the University of KwaZulu-Natal's decision to offer this type of leave could result in legal challenges, experts warn
A decision by the University of KwaZulu-Natal to offer pet bereavement leave to its staff could court legal challenges, an expert has warned.
“An employer can say only cat and dog owners may benefit from this leave, but employees could argue attachment to other type of pets such as such as rabbits, rats or birds, or even cold-blooded pets such as reptiles, snakes or fish,” said Norton Rose Fulbright employment and labour lawyer Jonathan Jones.
The difference in the lifespan of different types of pets could open up the entitlement to abuse.
“Then there is the issue of proof of death. Animals are not issued with death certificates,” Jones said.
Jones suggested that employers rather expand the scope of family responsibility leave if they wished to offer time off to grieving pet owners.
“There is already considerable abuse of sick leave in South Africa, which comes at a great cost to our economy. It is not advisable to implement further types of leave that are even more easily capable of being abused,” he said.
According to Cape Town-based pet bereavement therapist Luyanda Nelana, most employees fear the response: It was just an animal.
“When your pet has passed on and you want people to understand why your heart is aching and why you can’t live without your friend, your child or family member that’s an animal but not all employers, colleagues, family and friends understand.”Nelana was surprised that the University of KwaZulu-Natal has begun offering its staff one day per year to mourn the death of a registered pet.
“I don’t know any other employer that offers pet bereavement leave because in most environments publicly acknowledging affection for a pet is not the norm as most people are ashamed to be seen to love an animal.
Nelana, who obtained her pet bereavement therapy qualifications from long-distance studying institutions Blackford Centre and Centre of Excellence, said grief-stricken South African pet owners are even ashamed to seek professional help.
“In South Africa, it’s quite taboo to have therapy sessions about a pet. So we only get new clients once a month or once every two months because some of them actually feel ashamed to come to a therapy session to get help because an animal has passed on.”
Nelana said pet owners should be entitled to pet bereavement leave because the feeling they experienced was “exactly the feeling that they would have if a family member had passed on”.
“It’s like having a child or a family member that is in your life every single day of your life and when they are not around anymore, there is a void. So how do you go to work on the day they have died, knowing at home there is nobody waiting for you.”
But offering pet bereavement leave to staff could court legal challenges and abuse.