Sadly, all of us will lose someone we love in our lifetimes. While these days can be dark and full of sorrow, as an employer, it’s your duty to understand fair and lawful bereavement leave.

These conversations are difficult at best, and traumatic if handled badly, but it’s essential that you and your workers know where they stand in times of grief and tragedy.

In this blog, we talk you through our key guidelines and answer some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding bereavement leave.

What is bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave, or compassionate leave, means that employees are allowed to take time off from work following the death – or life-threatening illness or injury – of their immediate family or household.

Who can take bereavement leave?

Depending on your bereavement policy, all employees – including casual, contract and freelance – are entitled to bereavement leave. Some policies state that anyone employed for at least 30 days with the same employer is entitled to time off.

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Who is considered immediate family for bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave policies usually operate on an immediate family basis. This is a vague term to go on, so it might need some tailoring at your company. However, immediate family members are officially defined as the employee’s:

  • Spouse

  • Children (including step children and grandchildren)

  • Parents (including step parents)

  • Siblings (including step brothers / sisters)

  • Grandparents

  • Aunts and uncles

  • In-laws (including mother, father, siblings and children)

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ policy for bereavement leave, but a little compassion goes a long way. Perhaps ‘immediate family’ is too limited for your bereavement policy, and you want to extend your policy to include friends (or pets…). As an employer, you make these choices at your own discretion.

What if my employee loses a child?

A new workplace right to paid leave for bereaved parents was officially enshrined in law on the 13th of September 2018. The new law states that employed parents who lose a child under 18 will receive two weeks’ leave under the Act. This is expected to come into force in 2020.

At the time being, only employees that lose a child are entitled to bereavement leave by law.

Do you have to pay employees on bereavement leave?

Other than for the loss of a child, there is no statutory law to pay employees on bereavement leave. However, many employers choose to do so. In fact, 60 percent of workers in the private sector have access to paid bereavement leave through their employers.

How much leave are employees entitled to?

According to GOV.UK, mourning employees are allowed to take a ‘reasonable amount of time off’. While these official guidelines are vague, other sources suggest that three to five days is a typical amount of time.

However, because there are no set number of days an employer must give an employee, the length of bereavement leave is up to the employer. Use your best judgment and evaluate leave on a case-by-case basis.

Try to consider:

  • The relationship of the employee to the deceased.

  • The circumstances of the death (some deaths can be more traumatic than others).

  • Time consuming arrangements; does your employee need time to organise a funeral or prepare for an autopsy?

  • How your employee feels about returning to work.

That last point is important.

Everyone grieves differently, so it’s crucial that you speak with your employee and find out what works best for both of you. While some people may need a little more time to get their feelings in order, for others work may be a welcome distraction.

These conversations are never easy, but it’s commendable to create a supportive dialogue with your grieving staff.

Empathy is the best remedy

In short, there is no law that enforces employers to grant bereavement leave. However, (and we say this with our hearts on our sleeves) for the love of all that is good, please don’t be the company that forces someone back to work the day after the death of their loved one.

When it comes to bereavement at work, it’s all down to empathy, patience and respect.

Put yourself in your worker’s shoes and ask yourself: what kind of boss would I want to work for? The kind that offers support and sympathy? Or the kind that values profits above their employee’s humanity? Hopefully the answer is an easy one.

I will end this blog the way I wish I could end every blog, with a quote from Prince:

“Compassion is an action word with no boundaries”


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