The FMLA (Probably) Does Not Cover Loss of a Pet
This is not to say that an employee can never qualify for FMLA leave following the death of a pet.
” ‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!”
In all seriousness, it sucks to lose a pet.
But, does it qualify an employee for FMLA leave?
According to the court in Buck v. Mercury Marine (E.D. Wisc. 12/22/17), the answer is a qualified “no.”
The employee, Joseph Buck, worked as a machinist for Mercury Marine. He also had a dog, which, on May 26, 2014, he had to put to sleep. That day he called his supervisor and asked for a vacation day (which was granted) because of how upset he was.
The next day, Buck called again and explained that he had not slept since the loss of his dog and would not be able to work. Mercury Marine considered that absence unexcused.
That same day, he sought treatment at the ER and was diagnosed with “situational insomnia,” which a nurse documented in a note that Buck presented to his employer. Despite the note, the absence, and all others over the next three months, were considered unexcused.
Ultimately, Mercury Marine terminated Buck for accumulated unexcused absences, and he filed suit under the FMLA.
The record contains no evidence that the plaintiff sought, or obtained, medical attention for the insomnia, other than his one visit to Nurse Baseley—no prescriptions, no treatment reports, nothing…. The nurse’s letter does not categorize the insomnia as chronic, or say whether she expected it to continue. There is no evidence to support the plaintiff’s statement that he had been suffering from intermittent, shift-related insomnia for months.