There have been recent calls in the press for a new statutory right to bereavement leave. At present, organisations react to employee bereavement in a variety of ways. Some businesses have long-standing policies in places to support this and to ensure a consistent approach is taken but many others deal with this on an ad hoc basis, with treatment differing considerably depending upon the size and culture of the organisation and the relationship between the employee and the manager or organisation concerned It can also depend upon what else is going on in the business, the attitude of the manager and how empathetic he or she is with peoples’ personal lives.
What is a surprise to many people is that there is no legal right at present to any form of bereavement leave; paid or unpaid. This includes the bereavement of close relatives or children who are lost at the early or mid-stage of pregnancy. There is however the right to unpaid dependency leave which includes the need to make arrangements in consequence of the death of a dependent. While this is better than nothing, it does not cover the myriad of situations which an employee can encounter. Bereavement can be a complicated process and few employees could or should be fit to return to work immediately after a loss, especially if the relationship was a close one, the death was particularly harrowing or sudden, there is a need to go abroad or they have a considerable amount of paperwork to sort out.
So, what should a good employer do in the absence of a statutory requirement?
Best practice in this area would suggest that a consistent and sympathetic course should be taken to best support the employee and to ensure that people are treated fairly. Many organisations choose to operate a mixture of paid and unpaid bereavement leave with the option of additional holidays should more time off be required. When the employee returns to work, the manager should also ensure that they are sufficiently supported to return to their work and if there is an employee counselling service available, this should be highlighted to employees in good time.
Whether as a business you feel that statutory time off for bereavement should or should not be provided to your employees, what is clear is that the current situation is inconsistent and some clarification would therefore be desirable for all business owners, managers and employees.