How to Handle Bereavement Leave in Your Organisation

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Death can be a taboo topic for many, and often sees people often avoiding the word and topic altogether. The death of a family member, loved one or close friend can be a very emotional traumatic event, from grieving their loss to arranging and attending a funeral all within a short space of time. In some cases, this funeral may even be overseas.

Unfortunately, bereavement is something that will effect everyone at some point in their lives, and this can leave employees wondering what their entitlement to bereavement leave is. The grieving process is hard enough without employees being unclear on their HR’s compassionate leave policies. For some employees, they may find it difficult, or uncomfortable to approach their employers about their compassionate leave entitlement if it has not already been clearly established.

It’s important for managers and HR to have a clear policy for compassionate leave and a set of best practice guidelines. Organisations should outline compassionate leave in employment contracts or have their policies clearly laid out and accessible to their workforce to ensure employees are supported in the sad eventuality of a bereavement.

What is bereavement leave, and what are the rules?

Bereavement leave refers to the amount of time that the employee can take off work to grieve the loss of a loved one. Whilst often used interchangeably, compassionate leave is more of a general term for time off that is used to deal with difficult life situations.

  • Bereavement leave applies specifically to the death of a dependant of the employee. A dependant is an employee’s spouse, parent, child or someone who lives in the same household. For example, bereavement leave does not extend to grandparents or siblings unless they live in the same household as the employee.
  • Compassionate leave has a wider scope and is generally a more holistic approach to supporting employees who may be going through a tough time. Compassionate leave may be granted to an employee who is enduring difficult personal circumstances, for example, coping with the death of other family members or going through a divorce.

As it stands, there are very few policies in place in the UK that state how much bereavement leave an employee is entitled to. The Employment Rights Act 1996 states that an employee is entitled to take leave in light of an emergency, such as a dependant suddenly getting ill or if the employee suffers from a bereavement. However, nowhere does it state in the policy that an employee must receive pay whilst on bereavement leave, or how long this should be.

It is advised by ACAS that employers should allow for a ‘reasonable’ amount of compassionate leave. However, the difficulty lies in differing circumstances, as what is reasonable to one person, may not be to another due to other life commitments.

New legislation was passed in 2020 regarding Statutory Parental Bereavement leave, where an employee would be entitled to two weeks of paid case Parental Bereavement leave in the unfortunate circumstance of the death of a child.

Best Practise with Bereavement Leave Policies

Whilst an employee does have a right to time off with compassionate leave, it is completely within the employer’s discretion to decide how much leave time the employee is allowed, and whether bereavement leave is paid or unpaid.

If there is not a clear leave policy in place, it can leave employees wondering what their entitlement to compassionate leave is. If an employee is unclear, it could force them to use their annual leave in order to take time off, or take unpaid leave. This period of bereavement time can be hard enough without employees having to worry about whether they are entitled to paid, or unpaid leave. It is therefore best practise to devise a bereavement and compassionate leave policy that outlines exactly what an employee is entitled to.

Adopting an empathetic, compassionate leave policy is best practise for HR teams who want to create a company culture that cares about its employees and understands that bereavement leave is important in dealing with the grief and adjusting after a loss. Offering a clear, yet flexible bereavement policy is a good approach for most organisations to allow their employees reasonable time to cope with the loss and gradually return to work.

An employer’s leave policy that includes paid bereavement or compassionate leave shows employees that their employers and HR care about their wellbeing and will support them through difficult times. Offering paid bereavement or compassionate leave could relieve stresses for employees who may be struggling with costly funeral arrangements. In turn, offering a compassionate bereavement leave policy will improve employee loyalty and retention for organisations.

Compassion Through Flexibility

When a dependant or close friend dies, it can be traumatic to employees to varying degrees. No two situations are alike when it comes to the death of a family member or friend, and each circumstance must be treated with a level of flexibility, on a case-by-case basis.

For example, an employee may lose their grandparent who they were particularly close to and it may result in them needing more time off than someone who had more distant relationship with that family member. A level of flexibility and compassion is needed in bereavement policies to account for varying levels of distress, and this should be outlined in company handbooks.

Compassion and flexibility surrounding sensitive issues is important to building an empathetic work culture which supports employee wellbeing. Tracking leave is an effective of building understanding and compassion within HR, and making data-driven decisions when it comes to leave.

Statutory Parental Bereavement

April 2020 saw a change in the parental Bereavement (leave and pay) Act 2018 as new statutory rights were introduced in the UK.

If an employee’s child dies that is under the age of 18, they are entitled to two weeks of parental bereavement leave, paid in full by their employer. The statutory parental bereavement leave and pay also applies to parents who lose a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The parent is entitled to take these two weeks of parental bereavement leave within a 56 week window from the date of death of the child or stillborn. Parental bereavement leave is also flexible as the parent is able to split the two weeks of leave if they wish. This attempts to cover sentimental periods such as the anniversary of the death and the child’s birth date, giving the employee a choice as to when they use their statutory leave.

In the case of a stillborn child or neonatal death, an employee is entitled to parental leave and pay in conjunction with their statutory parental bereavement leave and pay. For example, if a child was carried to full term, but was sadly stillborn, the mother would be entitled to statutory maternity leave and pay plus two weeks parental bereavement leave. The partner parent would also be entitled to paternity leave and pay plus parental bereavement pay and leave.

XCD’s time management and payroll tools make it easy for employee leave to be entered and tracked. It also lets HR keep track of the 56 week window that the statutory leave is in. Using automated payroll software, HR can ensure that employees receive their correct bereavement leave and statutory parental bereavement pay entitlements.

Returning to Work

As society is growing ever more understanding of mental health and the wellbeing of others, embracing bereaved employees back into the workplace is an opportunity for employers to show their support and ongoing commitment to their wellbeing. 

When bereaved employees return to work, it may be an overwhelming experience. Everybody deals with death slightly differently, and some people may need more support than others. Grief and the pain that comes with bereavement lasts for much longer than a week or two, so it is a good practise for employers to have regular check-ins and appraisals with their employees once they have returned from bereavement leave.

Using HR software to monitor the performance of a bereaved employee once they return to work is an effective means of providing flexible support as necessary. This is a great way to demonstrate appreciation and support, showing that an employer truly cares about the wellbeing of their staff, and that they are willing to provide further support if needed.

Compassionate leave and bereavement are policies which will impact everyone in the workforce at some point in their employee lifecycle.

Discover how your organisation can best support your employees through the good times and the bad using XCD’s HR and payroll software solution to streamline Human Resources processes and employee data. Book a demo now.