Wednesday, 1 August 2018

The Right to Purreavement Leave in Ontario

Should employees be allowed to use their Personal Emergency Leave (Employment Standards Act, 2000, section 50) to be absent from work in order to mourn the loss of a family pet? That is to say, should workers in Ontario be entitled to take so called “purreavement leave”?

For some the question will be ridiculous. To others, the answer “no” would be equally outrageous.

The question is not completely hypothetical either. According to a CBC news’ report, Quebec labour tribunal sides with employer in cat-bereavement spat, “A Quebec labour tribunal has sided with an employer who refused a woman's request to work from home on the day her cat died.”

That story got me thinking: Can workers in Ontario use their Personal Emergency Leave to mourn the loss of a family pet? If not, should they?

The Statutory Law

This blog has looked at the issue of Personal Emergency Leave and bereavement leave in the post Entitlement to Bereavement Leave in Ontario. As noted in that post, as of January 1, 2018, (and subject to whatever the Ford government may do) in Ontario, employees employed for more than one week are entitled to two days of paid personal emergency leave. One of the ways in which such paid leave can be used is in the event of a death of an individual described below:

  1. The employee’s spouse.
  2. A parent, step-parent or foster parent of the employee or the employee’s spouse.
  3. A child, step-child or foster child of the employee or the employee’s spouse.
  4. A grandparent, step-grandparent, grandchild or step-grandchild of the employee or of the employee’s spouse.
  5. The spouse of a child of the employee.
  6. The employee’s brother or sister.
  7. A relative of the employee who is dependent on the employee for care or assistance.

“Pets” are not expressly enumerated, meaning that, like in the Quebec case, employees have no statutory right to take Personal Emergency Leave if their pets die.

Should Employees Have the Right?

Just because the law does not (yet) afford such a right does not mean that it shouldn’t however. I put the question up on my Twitter, and the results were as follows:

As of my authoring of this post, the “ayes” are clearly in the lead.

Employers Can Provide Benefit

As mentioned on this blog on more than one occasion, nothing prevents employers from providing their workers with benefits greater than the minimum standards provided by the ESA. If an employer decided that it was going to provide bereavement leave for the loss of a pet, or “purreavement leave”, then it could certainly contract for that in its written offer of employment. I am sure that some employers are already doing this.

Takeaways for Employees with Labour Pains

The takeaway for employees with labour pains is that, strictly speaking, the law does not afford bereavement leave for pets. Unless your employers has a policy on the subject, you have no express legal right to take such leave. Of course, if the loss of a pet causes you to suffer a “personal illness” or “medical emergency”, then you would have the right to take PEL.

Takeaways for Employers with Labour Pains

The takeaway for employers is that some employees are, in my opinion understandably, going to become upset over the loss of a pet. In those cases, employers may want to consider offering some form of bereavement leave, whether paid or not, to employees dealing with such a situation. Are you required to offer such leave? Strictly speaking no. And I certainly appreciate the opportunity for any such benefit to be exploited. However, if you believe pets can be family, it might be something to consider offering.

If you are an employer and you need to make changes to the terms of your employee’s employment, or if you want to introduce written employment agreements with your staff, the professional, experienced and cost-effective employment lawyers for employers at Ottawa's Kelly Santini LLP would be happy to be of service to your business or organization.

Contact Me

To reach the author of this blog, Sean Bawden, email sbawden@kellysantini.com or call 613.238.6321 x260.

Sean P. Bawden is a partner with Kelly Santini LLP, located in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He practices in the areas of employment law and civil litigation. He has also taught Trial Advocacy for Paralegals and Small Claims Court Practice at Algonquin College in Ottawa. For most of his life he had a cat.

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As always, everyone’s situation is different. The above is not intended to be legal advice for any particular situation. It is always prudent to seek professional legal advice before making any decisions with respect to your own case.

(c) istock/fcscafeine

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