For example, while owners may consider fish and reptiles as pets, the American Veterinary Medical Association includes only dogs, cats, cage birds and horses as ‘companion animals’.
“I can see difficulties in deciding who should be entitled to time off, and who shouldn't,” Bradshaw says. HR expert Ryan agrees, and that if a company were to roll out such a policy, it needs to be as black-and-white as possible.
Bradshaw also argues that there are “subtle differences between the grief felt for pets and that felt for close, human relatives”: that, for example, many pet owners get a new pet within a few months, whereas grief lasts for many years when a close family member dies.
“It's commonplace for owners to speak of their pets as ‘one of the family’, but this may be no more than a convenient way to describe them,” Bradshaw adds.
However companies decide to accommodate the changing needs of their workforce, and as pet ownership is so widespread – 68% of families in the US, for example – the topic of employee pet care is unlikely to go away.
“You can’t ignore the numbers,” Stehlik says. “So if the majority of the population is experiencing this, then companies need to get with the programme.”
Bryan Lufkin is BBC Capital’s features writer. Follow him on Twitter @bryan_lufkin.
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