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Since the pandemic began, companies have increasingly had to take a hard look at what they offer employees in terms of pay, benefits and work-life balance, especially as a wave of workers leave their jobs or look for better jobs.

Some businesses are considering another new benefit: employees can take time off to mourn when their pet dies.

The issue has received particular attention over the past week, with a story that has garnered a lot of attention online.

Auralee Smith, a 21-year-old New Jersey college student who worked as a barista at the local Starbucks SBUX,
-1.34%,
A text exchange was shared on social media with her supervisor at the coffee chain.

Smith’s family plans to put the family’s dog to sleep at a local veterinary clinic — the beloved pet has cancer, Smith told MarketWatch — and Smith wants to take the next day off to recover, according to an exchange Smith posted.

Smith’s boss said the timing wasn’t ideal and asked if the veterinarian’s appointment had been changed.

A Starbucks spokeswoman said the store eventually arranged for Smith’s lodging, noting that “we were able to support this partner in getting her job secured at the time.” The company also noted that when Smith filed a complaint shortly after the incident In her resignation letter, she said of her time at Starbucks, “I learned a lot and made wonderful friendships that I will forever cherish.”

Still, Smith told MarketWatch she is still troubled by the exchange. “She’s my best friend,” Smith said of her pet, a rescue dog named Dandy. “I love her so much.”

Smith said her feelings eventually prompted her to share the story on Twitter and Reddit.Her post clearly resonated, and the post on Twitter alone resonated Over 240,000 Likes It was shared more than 15,000 times, and the Reddit post attracted more than 2,500 comments.

Like most U.S. companies, Starbucks does not offer bereavement leave to pet owners whose animals have died. But things may be changing across the country. Experts in the fields of benefits and human resources say more and more companies are considering pet-related bereavement leave. Some pet-focused companies, including dog sitter network Rover.com and pet health insurance provider Trupanion, already offer paid time off to soothe their pets.

“I think we’re on the cusp of becoming a more standard benefit,” said David Lewis, chief executive of human resources consultancy Operations Inc.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a key driver of this shift in thinking, Lewis said. Specifically, he noted that during the health crisis, more employees began working from home and, as a result, developed a deeper bond with their pets. He also noted that many workers have kept a pet during the pandemic to cope with their life stress and upended work environment.

Experts say the mood swings associated with the loss of a pet are often as much as those associated with the loss of a family member. In fact, in some cases, this can be even bigger because people tend to spend more time with their pets than they do with many relatives.

The 2020 Harris Poll, conducted on behalf of TD Ameritrade, found that 65% of Americans own at least one pet. Perhaps more importantly, the survey also noted that 89 percent of U.S. pet owners say their pets have brought them comfort during the pandemic.

Still, bereavement leave is hard to come by for anyone other than a worker’s immediate family. Most companies that offer paid leave offer one to five days of bereavement leave, with three being the most popular policy. But this usually only includes immediate family members; uncles or close friends may not qualify.

Of course, some companies may not have a formal bereavement policy, but may still express sympathy for employees who have lost pets.

That’s what Anya Gelernt-Dunkle, a Massachusetts resident who works in higher education, found out when she lost her dog, Puzzles, in 2021. Her boss allowed her to take time off to mourn, and Gelent-Dunkle said she was grateful. But she also said the lack of a formal pet-related bereavement policy at her workplace was worrying because it effectively reduced losses.

Gelernt-Dunkle said creating a policy “would set a standard for everyone to take it in a more serious light”.

That’s why Bill Ihle, executive director of services for the nonprofit Southern Oregon Consumer Credit Commission, said he’s updating company policy to officially allow pet-related bereavement leave. Ihle said he experienced the need for this kind of time off first-hand when his golden retriever, Sebby, died a few years ago.

“I’m a mess,” he said.

A sign that companies are starting to take their employees’ relationships with pets seriously? More and more companies are offering pet insurance — at least as a voluntary benefit (meaning employees have to pay, but usually at a lower rate).

Grief experts say it’s especially important to offer bereavement leave after a pet dies — failing to do so can actually hurt itself.

Experts say the mood swings associated with the loss of a pet are often as much as those associated with the loss of a family member. In fact, in some cases, this can be even bigger as people tend to spend more time with their pets than with many relatives.

Plus, experts say, losses take time to process — which is why bereavement leave matters.

“You can’t say, ‘I’ll deal with it after hours’ because that’s not going to work,” said Dr Alejandra Vasquez, an grievance consultant who has written on the subject.

Dr. Kristin Bianchi, a psychologist specializing in bereavement, said it also didn’t make sense from a productivity standpoint to ask workers to come in after their pets died.

“People have trouble concentrating. They experience brain fog,” she said of the grieving process.

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