How long should bereavement leave last?

In the event of the death of a loved one, how long should your bereavement leave last? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer here.

Grief is not quantifiable, and there is no way to predict how much of an effect it will have on us, or on our ability to work. For some, burying their head into work is as good a coping mechanism as any, for others, it’s not even fathomable. Regardless of where you fall, the death of a loved one can be a traumatic time, without having to give thought to how much time you can take off of work.

What is bereavement leave

Bereavement leave – also known as compassionate leave – is additional time off work granted following the death of a loved one. There is no statutory right for you to have paid bereavement leave in the UK, but employees can take a reasonable amount of unpaid leave to deal with emergency situations for dependents.

A dependent is usually defined as a spouse, partner, child or immediate family member, but the rules are far from defined, meaning the death of people out-with your immediate family may also be considered as grounds for allowing bereavement leave.

Every company policy will differ, and you will be able to find your own by speaking to your HR team or consulting your staff handbook.

The law on bereavement leave

The Employment Rights Act 1996 gives all workers the right to time off for dependants. This accounts for a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies involving a dependent, including time for to arrange or attend a funeral.

There is no set number of days. ACAS suggests that 1-2 days is sufficient to deal with an emergency, but this recommendation does little to account for the time needed to grieve. Dependant leave accounts for the time needed to deal with the immediate aftermath and does little to account for the emotional impact a death will have.

Most businesses in the UK will allow 3-5 days unpaid leave, but this will always be at the discretion of the employer. There is a responsibility for all employers to ensure that employees are given sufficient time to come to terms and manage their loss without granting extensive leave that may result in isolation in the recently bereaved.

Is there such a thing as too much time off?

Short answer – yes. For some people, grief is all-consuming and the very thought of returning to normality is unbearable in the aftermath of a loved one’s death. In this instance, extended bereavement leave can be needed to ensure have time to process the situation. For others, going back to work gives a mental structure that allows them to function through their grief.

Going to work is a constant, and at times a welcome distraction from everything else that is going on. How much leave is too much leave will vary from situation to situation, and it’s important to realise that everyone copes with grief in their own way. Ashes Memorial Jewellery can offer a helping hand in this process.

How do I apply for bereavement leave?

Talking about death can be uncomfortable, emotional and it’s understandable to want to avoid it where possible. No one relishes the prospect of discussing the passing of a loved one with their boss, but unfortunately it is unavoidable when it comes to requesting emergency leave. To avoid this uncomfortable discussion, most employers will already have a bereavement or compassionate leave policy written into their staff handbooks.

If your employer refuses to give you time off for a bereavement then you can raise an informal grievance and escalate the matter if a satisfactory outcome is not achieved. The Citizens Advice Bureau and ACAS should be able to offer assistance as well as a solicitor

Finally, it’s important to remember that every situation is different. Grief is not quantifiable, and there is no way to predict how much of an effect it will have on us, or on our ability to work. Be honest with yourself and your employer. If you feel like the bereavement leave you’ve received isn’t enough, raise this with your boss. Most are extremely understanding in situations like these, and will be willing to provide you with extra time off if you need it. If the time off is warranted and reasonable, they should be able to come to an arrangement that suits everyone involved.