Bereavement is a topic that no one wants to deal with, let alone
discuss in the workplace. However, research shows that one in 10
employees are likely to be affected by bereavement at any one
Surprisingly, the UK is behind many other countries by not
offering a statutory right to bereavement leave. For example,
Albania currently offers five days, Israel seven days and Canada
three days. Some employers will offer employees compassionate leave
in these circumstances. However, how long is at the employer's
discretion. Five days is currently the average paid leave employees
are given. Employees therefore have to rely on other means, such as
sick leave or unpaid time off. There is therefore still a
significant gap in the law as to how employers should help
employees at this difficult time.
Employers should also consider how their policies may affect
employees with religious beliefs and ensure that their leave policy
does not discriminate. For example, some religions have different
beliefs and cultures surrounding bereavement and therefore some
employees may need more time off work. In Hinduism, relatives must
observe a 13-day mourning period after cremation. Similarly in
Judaism, family members do not go to work and stay home for seven
days following a death. Unless an employer could objectively
justify refusing the longer leave required, this may amount to
indirect religious discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
Potential changes in the law
Following research by the National Council for Palliative Care,
the Parental Bereavement Leave (Statutory Entitlement) Bill
2016-17A will seek to deal with the circumstances following the
death of a child. The bill has now received its second reading
debate in October 2016 and would introduce a two-week statutory
paid leave for employees who suffer the loss of a child. While
under the current law, a parent of a stillborn child would be
granted leave, a parent who loses a five year old would not. This
Bill therefore tries to reflect and balance this clear
inconsistency in the law.
Whereas most employers would be sympathetic in such a terrible
situation, the Bill, if enacted, would create certainty for both
employer and employee. If introduced, this Bill will make the UK
one of the most generous jurisdictions for bereavement leave, above
the countries quoted above.
What can employers do at the moment?
While we wait for any statutory provisions on bereavement leave,
employers looking for more support and guidance can consider
Acas's helpful guide. Acas comments that while bereavement in
the workplace can be challenging to manage, a compassionate and
supportive approach demonstrates that an employee is valued and
supported. Consequentially, this should help to reduce sick leave
and improve employee retention.
An employer should always consider its duty of care to employees
and should try to deal with each individual on a case-by-case
basis. Each employee will go through the grief process differently,
and so Acas suggests this needs to be understood and respected by
both employers and colleagues. For example, some people may want to
return to work quickly, whereas others may need more time and
The Acas guide also offers support for various scenarios,
including the death of a family member, death of a child and death
of a colleague. Within this, it sets out a list of steps employers
should consider implementing in the early days after an
employee's bereavement. For example, how much contact and
dialogue to have with the employee, whether they want colleagues to
know and contact them, and how to review and readdress the
situation after the initial grieving process.
Employers should also consider any amendments to working
arrangements following a bereavement. For example, the death of a
spouse may lead to a request for part-time or flexible working to
deal with child care arrangements. Employers should be mindful of
any requests and determine how they can accommodate them.
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