Bereavement leave is a delicate topic to contend with for those experiencing the loss, and for their employer.
For those dealing with a loss, there are the overwhelming feelings of grief, complicated by the need to make necessary arrangements. Employers need to know how much bereavement leave is appropriate and adequate for the individual but also the business. Some employers will offer paid leave and may have detailed policies that support those experiencing loss. These policies can vary from one organisation to another, but some standard rules will apply to all.
Here we offer some general guidance to support you at this difficult time.
What is bereavement leave?
You may better know bereavement leave as compassionate leave. They are the same thing. It is the time you are allowed away from the workplace in the event of someone close to you dying. The amount of time you can take will need to be agreed with your employer. It should be a reasonable amount of time to help you deal with the immediate aftermath of events. It may be this is to cope with the trauma and tragedy in the days after the death. It could also be the time needed to attend the funeral.
You may feel you need more time than your employer gives you. If this is so, then the extended period would be covered by sickness and would need to be certified by your GP. It may be that you work with your employer to use your annual holiday, giving more space and time to recover. However, it is worth considering the value of returning to the normality of the routine of work, as it may offer some moments of relief.
Bereavement and the law
The law requires employers to give you a reasonable number of days for bereavement leave. The Employment Rights Act (1996) might feel unhelpfully vague; however, the different context for the application of the law makes it too challenging to be more specific.
ACAS, an organisation who works as a mediator between employees and companies, claim that “reasonable” should be defined as two days. A lot of companies follow this lead. However, research suggests that many managers realise you will not be at your peak performance. They may offer as much as five days of unpaid leave beyond this initial period.
The law is clear that bereavement leave needs to be considered entirely separate from sick leave. Sickness can, over time, be used as a means of seeking dismissal of an individual from the post. Only at the point after agreed bereavement leave has finished and/ or a GP certifies that you should stay home, should this be considered absence from work due to illness.
The law for bereavement leave applies to those considered immediate family. Immediate family are those who are within your closest family group, including your spouse, children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and their children. The law also covers dependents. Therefore, this can refer to people you are responsible for caring for, as well as close family.
It is unfortunate, but the law does not cover close friends. Even though the loss of a close friend can be more substantial and traumatic than some family members, there is no recourse under the law. It would be at the discretion of your employer as to whether they counted within company policies.
Assessing the need for bereavement leave
Knowing whether you need time away from work is complicated. Research into bereavement leave is difficult, as most leave taken is listed by HR as stress, which hides the extent of the problem for the workplace and the employee.
Although it is essential to be given time and space to deal with the trauma of the loss, your routine is good for your mental health. Being away from work can leave you stranded in your pain and without the natural support offered by friends in work. Mental health organisations note that the sense of isolation after a death can be quite harmful to longer-term wellbeing.
If you choose to return to work, you need to be mindful of how much your colleagues know. You cannot expect them to be sensitive to your needs if they are unaware of the situation. You could end up being vulnerable to criticism because you are distracted or withdrawn. It is a good idea to find a way of making your colleagues aware – maybe asking someone in human resources to let people know.
The law is vague on purpose, leaving the manager and the employee room to find the right solution. A company would be well directed to write a policy to cover bereavement leave, so everyone should know the standard procedures at this time.