123RF.com/Patchanu Noree

Chantal Dumais says her little two-and-a-half-year-old cat, Juliette, was like a member of her family.

So when the Montreal-area resident opened her door in June 2015 and saw her beloved pet’s inert body covered in blood, she called her employer in tears and asked to work from home that day. “I was so upset after seeing her dead, I wasn’t able to work that day, I was in too much pain,” she said in a phone interview.

But while Dumais considered her pet like family, her employer — and the law — did not see it that way.

A Quebec labour tribunal recently sided with Dumais’ former employer, ruling the medical clinic she worked for was within its rights to refuse her request to work from home that day. “Nothing in the law allows a worker to be absent from work because of the death of a pet,” tribunal Judge Sylvain Allard wrote.

Read: A look at Mars’ pet-friendly workplace policies

The decision came after Dumais filed a complaint against her former employer, alleging she was forced to leave her job due to various incidents of alleged psychological harassment that included derogatory comments and “excessive surveillance” on the part of her supervisor.

On the day of her cat’s death, Dumais contends she still worked from home despite her supervisor’s refusal. “If you can’t come to the office, you can’t work from home either,” read a message to Dumais that was contained in the court documents.

Dumais left the job in Laval, Que., a short time later, soon after learning she had not been paid for the day in question. The complaints contained in the document were rejected by Allard, who concluded that Dumais quit of her own accord and that her employer’s actions did not constitute psychological harassment.

But Dumais said she still believes she was mistreated. “I think it would be normal that when a tragedy arrives like the one I experienced . . . there should have been a paid day,” she said, noting that she hasn’t been able to bring herself to get another pet since her second cat, Romeo, died a year after Juliette.

Quebec’s labour standards act states that an employee is entitled to a paid day off for the death of a spouse, child, parent or sibling. An employee may miss a day without pay for the death of a grandparent, grandchild, son or daughter-in-law or spouse’s immediate family member.

Read: What do Canada’s provinces offer around bereavement leave?

But while the law is narrow in scope, some workers and employers may choose to evolve their policies as societal views of what constitutes a family become more fluid, an employment lawyer said. “As society is evolving and relationships evolve, I think more people are seeking flexibility, because they might not be very close with their parent and they might be absolutely devastated when a best friend dies,” Jeremy Little said in a phone interview.

Some employers, he said, may find it worth granting a day off to grieving employees even if the law doesn’t require them to do so. “If you look at the goodwill it will cost you to not give that versus the goodwill it generates to give it, practically speaking even if the law does not technically provide for it, you might suggest it makes sense to do,” he said.

Some companies in the United States and Europe have introduced pet bereavement leave or even “pawternity leave,” which allows pet owners to take time off to care for a new puppy.

In Canada, one human resources consultant said she has seen a growing number of dog-friendly workplaces, and has spoken to companies that are considering the idea of allowing employees to claim doggy daycare or veterinary costs under their benefits plans. “Employers are looking for creative ways to keep their employees engaged and committed and creative at work,” said Lisa Kay, the president of Peak Performance Human Resources.

Read: Corus seeks mental-health boost through four-legged festivities

While she’s generally in favour of anything that makes employees feel valued, she warns that such policies can have downsides if some employees don’t like pets or feel slighted because the company’s list of accommodations doesn’t fit their own priorities.

“You have to be careful, because it can backfire a bit,” she said.

Should employers evolve their policies to include bereavement leave for the death of a pet? Or does provincial and federal legislation already provide adequately for bereavement leave? Have your say in this week’s online poll here.

The previous poll question asked plan sponsors what strategy they’re planning to take to mitigate the extra costs of the Canada Pension Plan enhancements coming in 2019. Nearly half (45 per cent) of respondents said they’ll absorb the cost without changing benefits, while 25 per cent said they intend to reduce employee benefits to offset the extra cost and 30 per cent said they’re planning to take a different strategy altogether.

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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