No one can be prepared for the time an employee needs bereavement leave. This time of grief is so difficult and. for those experiencing loss, thinking about work can be one step too far.
We hope this guide can help relieve some of the worries when dealing with the grief of your team members.
What is bereavement leave?
You may know the term bereavement leave as compassionate leave. The two are synonymous. Both terms can be used to mean a period off work to deal with the loss of a close family member. The objective of this leave is to give individuals the time to deal with the immediate aftermath of a death. There are often details that need to be dealt with and the team member would be distracted if they were in the workplace anyway.
Therefore, it is vital to realise that this bereavement leave will only help with the start of the grieving process. You may offer anything from two to five days. This may feel inadequate for your employee and you may need to find a way to use holiday leave. You may need to advise the employee to go to the doctors and seek a fitness for work certificate.
What does the law say?
The law may appear unhelpful and cold in the face of the death of your team’s close relatives. It requires you to offer only a “reasonable” amount of time. The vagueness of this phrase might seem insensitive and create ambiguity in an area where people might need more protection. However, “reasonable” allows companies to respond to the individual circumstances of the company and the staff. Your business still needs to function. You cannot leave a post open for an individual who might need months to get over a loss. Equally, an individual may not feel the loss as keenly as we all would imagine, and any set period would be unnecessary or maybe even counterproductive.
ACAS is an organisation that works for the rights of employees. They suggest that a reasonable time of unpaid leave after death is two days. Some businesses choose to follow this guidance; others extend the unpaid leave to five days. There are some occasions where companies will still pay you for these days, though these are exceptional.
The vital point here is that the bereavement leave should be seen as separate from sick leave. Sickness can be used as a reason for dismissal if continued for too long and without due cause. Bereavement leave cannot be used in this way. If the employee extends leave from work after death beyond bereavement leave, you have the right to log this as sickness. Most companies label this as “stress”, and the extent to which grief adds to sickness rates is therefore disguised. You may wish to tag this more accurately, if your HR software allows.
What family are considered as “close”?
The law only relates to close family members. Therefore, bereavement leave is given for a spouse, children, a long-standing partner, siblings, grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. It also extends to people who the employee has cared for – who are considered dependents.
It does not cover close friends or other family members, even if the team member may have stronger relationship with these people. In these cases, it is within your discretion whether bereavement leave is relevant.
Do you need bereavement leave?
Knowing when an employee needs bereavement leave is tricky. Sometimes, returning to routine can help with grief. Staying at home and living within the emotions can heighten the sense of pain and make these feelings last longer and so encouraging the individual back to work might be exactly the right move. Up to five days to deal with the initial shock and sense of overwhelming loss is sensible. After this time, you are likely to help the employee by asking them to work. You will reduce the sense of social isolation and offer some structure to their day.
For your employee, it may be challenging to walk into work because you do not want to tell people again and again. It might be a good idea to work with the team member to consider how people should learn of the loss. Alternatively, sometimes social media has its place, and suggesting that the individual posts a notice can help deliver the news to others and allow them the opportunity to be sensitive.
Everyone will deal with grief differently. The law may not feel helpful, but it assumes that most people will show compassion. The most essential advice for companies is to have a policy in place. Give your managers the instructions for how to deal, and employees an expectation for how they will be treated.