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.

Woman said she was forced to leave her job due to psychological harassment

Quebec labour law doesn't provide for time off for the death of a pet. (This is not the cat cited in the story.) (Tony Doucette/CBC)

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.

Chantal Dumais filed a complaint alleging she was forced to leave her job in 2015 due to various incidents of alleged psychological harassment.

She said one example was when she wasn't paid after staying home from the office one day after the sudden death of her cat, Juliette.

Dumais told her employer she was too upset to come to work after finding her beloved pet dead, but that she still made calls from home. 

Court documents state the Laval resident left her job a short time later, soon after learning she had not been paid for the day in question.

But the tribunal ruled that nothing in Quebec's labour law permits a salaried employee to miss work following the death of a pet.

Tribunal Judge Sylvain Allard also concluded that Dumais quit of her own accord and that her employer's actions did not constitute psychological harassment. 

'Pawternity leave' is a thing

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 a spouse's immediate family member.

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.

"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.

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.