Lady carrying flowers in a church yard

Bereavement leave also referred to as compassionate leave, is time off from work that all employees are entitled to following the death of a dependant. Although employees are entitled to time off following a bereavement, the amount of time away from work and whether this is paid, is not mandated by UK Employment Law and instead falls to the employer’s discretion. 

Leave Entitlement For Staff Following A Bereavement  

The exception to this is working when parents suffer the loss of a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy. They are entitled to 2 weeks statutory leave in the UK irrespective of how long they have worked for their employer but again, this doesn’t have to be paid.

Despite not being mandated, most employees in the UK do choose to offer a period of paid leave if a member of staff suffers a bereavement or needs to attend a funeral as they understand the importance of this kind of flexibility when staff are experiencing grief. Whatever their stance, all employers should have a clear bereavement policy in place that outlines their approach to compassionate leave so staff and managers know what support is available during this difficult time. If employers aren’t able to offer paid leave during this time, they can suggest using annual leave or unpaid leave as an alternative.

HR And Redundancy Advice For Employers 

Neathouse Partners provide HR services and legal advice for employers managing conversations and staff absence surrounding periods of bereavement leave. Our solution-driven, personal service ensures that employers have access to a named and dedicated HR or employment lawyer to help them expertly navigate HR best practice and employment law, regardless of how complex or challenging the issue may seem. 

Bereavement is a delicate topic that sadly will inevitably affect all of us at some point in our lives. If you have employees that are going through a bereavement, you will need to be able to ensure your managers can handle the situation sensitively to ensure that staff feel supported, they are given the time they need to grieve, whilst also ensuring that business needs continue to be met. 

Whether you are looking for general advice when putting your employee bereavement policy in place or need help tackling a tricky HR matter regarding ongoing absence following the death of an employee’s loved ones, then HR support from an impartial and experienced team like Neathouse Partners can help you every step of the way. 

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Need help with bereavement conversations or policies?   

Fill out our contact form or call us on 01244 893776

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In this article, we will cover the key things to consider when writing or reviewing your bereavement leave policy including what time off employees are entitled to and how to manage difficult conversations surrounding time off following the death of somebody close to your employees. 


What Is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave, more commonly referred to as compassionate leave, is time off from work that all employees are entitled to following the death of a loved one. The time allows people to grieve, make funeral arrangements and come to terms with the shock of losing somebody close to them without being expected to juggle the day to day pressures of being at work too. 

Whether bereavement leave is paid or unpaid is at the discretion of the employer but as it is a sensitive topic that every member of your team will experience at some point in their lives, this may fall within their time of employment with you. It’s important therefore that you give proper consideration to your bereavement policy and make provisions for this in your staff handbook


Bereavement Leave Entitlement

Compassionate leave policy document on desk

The Employment Rights Act 1996, states that employees have the legal right to take ‘reasonable’ time off to deal with an emergency, including a death of a dependant. This entitlement covers unpaid leave only. 

With no statutory requirement for employers to offer paid time off in the event of a death of other family or friends, the terms surrounding time off during this difficult time are at the discretion of the company to set, except for when parents experience the death of a child under 18. 

From 6th April 2020, working parents who suffer the loss of a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy, are entitled to 2 weeks statutory leave in the UK irrespective of how long they have worked for their employer. The leave can be taken at any time across the year following their child’s death and applies to adults with parental responsibility such as adopters, foster parents and legal guardians. 

Whilst everyone is entitled to take time off following the death of a loved one, there is no legal requirement for employers to offer payment for this leave. Most companies do however choose to offer paid leave for between two and five days following a death of a close family member, a pet or somebody close to their staff, and will have their policy outlining this benefit within the employee handbook


What Should Be Offered? 

Most companies in the UK will offer between 3 and 5 days of paid leave for the loss of an immediate family member. This covers a spouse, civil partner, long term partner, sibling and children. As the family connection widens, the paid time off is often be reduced, with grandparents, grandchildren and step-parents falling into 2-3 days off and 1 day off for in-laws, aunts, uncles and cousins. 

Whilst these terms aren’t set by UK law and are completely up to the employer to set, they do offer a general guideline that employers may choose to follow. Employers may choose to offer more or less generous leave terms in the event of a member of their team suffering the death of a loved one, regardless of their relationship to your employee. 

Whilst most employers will be sympathetic in the case of the death of a close friend, family pet, colleague or non-immediate family member, there is no legal requirement to provide leave in these circumstances but it’s worth being aware of the impact that company policies surrounding sensitive topics like this can have on employee morale if they are not particularly helpful or sympathetic to employees going experiencing grief.

Offering generous terms of leave when employees need them most can go some way to creating a supportive and flexible relationship between employees and employer, which can, in turn, lead to better workplace relationships and loyalty to the company in the long term.  


Managing Difficult Conversations

Group of staff sat in circle listening to a briefing

Notifying their employer is one of the first conversations that employees will have to tackle following the death of a close friend or relative, 

In the absence of any legal guidelines specifying how to handle bereavement leave, it’s natural for employers to run into difficult conversations should employees want to take extended time off, or if they expect to be paid for leave or feel entitled to leave following the death of a family member, friend, pet or dependant. 

As emotions are already heightened at these difficult times, employers must have a clear bereavement policy in place, that this is shared with all staff, and all staff know where to find this information including any updates made to the policy. 

Sharing this information widely and transparently as part of your standard employment practices will ensure that all staff understand the support available to them in advance of needing to use it will hopefully make conversations easier to manage if you have the policy to refer to. 

Managers, in particular, should have a clear understanding of the support, leave and flexibility that can be offered so that they can provide an appropriate response if employees contact them directly in the event of a death rather than going to HR. 

Your bereavement policy should cover: 

  • If you offer paid or unpaid bereavement leave 
  • When bereavement leave is payable – is it only in the death of immediate family or close friends, pets and colleagues too? 
  • How many days of bereavement leave are employees entitled to?
  • What employees need to do if they require more time off than allowed for in the employment policies shared 
  • Who should employees notify in the event of a death that means they are unable to attend work?
  • Flexible working arrangements are available should the employee need them such as a phased return to work, reduced hours or remote working to offer the space they need to manage their grief 

What Adjustments Can Be Made? 

Desk in office with PC, laptop & mobile phone

No matter what your company bereavement policy is, grief is a powerful emotion that affects everybody differently. Some people find it incredibly difficult to return to normal working life whereas others prefer to keep busy and return to their normal routine as soon as possible. 

No matter how they react to a loss, every member of staff experiencing the death of a friend or family member should be treated fairly, compassionately, and with as much flexibility as you can reasonably offer as an employer. 

When managing conversations following a bereavement, you should be open and available to listen to any concerns that they have regarding doing their job and never pressure staff into returning before they are ready. 

If your employee is having a particularly tough time dealing with their grief or has a particularly difficult set of circumstances to deal with, then it is prudent to offer as much support as possible to aid their wellbeing including:

  • Options to change working location if needed. Could they temporarily work from home? 
  • Options to adjust their usual working hours. Either working fewer hours or condensing their hours over fewer days 
  • Allowing further time off but unpaid
  • Grant additional time if requested as long as any key business requirements are met  
  • You should aim to touch base regularly or let your staff know that they can contact you whenever they need to. 
  • Offer a phased return to work if possible  
  • Refer employees to stress management or grief counselling services available through employee assistance programs or offered as an additional benefit through the company
  • Ensure that any changes to working hours granted are agreed upon in writing and have a clear review date or end date. 

________________________________________________________

Need help with bereavement conversations or policies?   

Fill out our contact form or call us on 01244 893776

  ________________________________________________________

Why Do Employers Need A Compassionate Leave Policy?

Having a compassionate leave policy is important because it forms part of the guidance that outlines an employer’s response to a distressing time in an employee’s life. 

Employees need to feel supported by their employer and having a clear policy in place sets the tone that the company cares about the wellbeing of their staff and can help employees cope during difficult times. When employers ensure that their staff feel supported, can enjoy a work-life balance, and can build strong relationships with their employers. They can expect to enjoy a happier and more productive workplace in the long run. 


Writing Your Policy

As grief is so subjective and is handled differently by everybody, writing a bereavement policy that is both comprehensive but flexible enough to allow for adjustments when required can be a challenging feat for employers. 

For example, depending on their individual family set up and personal relationships, a member of staff may have an extremely close bond with their parents and suffer extraordinary grief in the event of their death, while another may not have seen their parents for a decade and cope relatively easily with their passing. 

When writing your compassionate leave policy, employers should therefore not focus on defining situations that qualify for specific bereavement leave entitlements unless defined by UK law, but rather focus on what support is available should the employee wish to take it.


Summary 

When an employee loses a loved one, the grief they experience can have a huge impact on their life and ability to work. As an employer, you need to ensure that you have a fair and flexible bereavement leave policy in place and that all staff, particularly managers, are aware of what it entails. 

Death is inevitable, so considering your approach to dealing with loss that your employees will face in advance of the situation arising will ensure you can offer them the support they need during a difficult time and that all employees are treated fairly, regardless of their circumstances. 

To recap

  • In all circumstances regarding leave after a bereavement, there’s no legal right for this time off to be paid, but some employers choose to offer pay. Employers should clearly state their approach in employee contracts or employee handbooks and related policies.
  • There’s no legal right to time off for a funeral if the person who died was not a dependent, for example a friend. However your some employers choose to offer time off in these circumstances too.
  • Employers should have a clear bereavement or compassionate leave policy within their staff handbook. This should be shared with all staff upon joining the company and line managers should give this extra attention to ensure they deal with compassionate leave requests appropriately.
  • Your policy should include an element of flexibility to allow managers to manage requests for additional time off sensitivity when requested by the employee. Considerations such as unpaid leave, using annual leave, phased returns to work, remote working or reduced hours allow for the individual handling of loss on a case by case basis whilst ensuring the same benefits are available to everybody if needed as everyone deals with grief in different ways. 
  • Whilst not a compulsory requirement, employers should consider the generosity of their paid bereavement leave policy and the impact it can have on long term employee morale and relations.  

Getting Help With HR Policies   

Neathouse Partners can assist employers with all aspects of employment and HR law including providing advice and support regarding writing and updating employee policies such as bereavement leave.  

We can help you to deal with challenging conversations in the sensitive manner they deserve to ensure that your employees are treated fairly and that you meet your obligations under UK Employment Law. 

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About the author 

James Rowland

James is the Commercial Director at Neathouse Partners and regularly writes articles surrounding issues in HR & Employment Law. Outside of the office, James is a keen Cricketer, playing in the Cheshire League for Nantwich CC. He also loves going to watch his football team, Crewe Alexandra. Feel free to connect with James on LinkedIn.

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