ACAS shares bereavement advice for employers

Here are some recommendations that can help you bereave in a better way

The death of a loved one or family member is a difficult time that can affect a person in many ways and impact their ability to do their job. ACAS has shared recommendations companies should use to support employees during bereavement. 

1 – Leave and pay when someone dies

Most people experience the death of a loved one during their working life. Grief is a natural response that people have when they experience bereavement. It is important to note that everyone experiences grief differently. To help their employees through this difficult time, companies should: 

  • be sensitive to what each person may need at the time
  • consider the person’s physical and emotional well-being, including after they return to work 
  • recognise that bereavement is not a linear process and affects each person differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and bereavement can affect people at different times after the death

Beyond common sense, what does the law say, and what rights do employees have?

2 – Businesses should give employees the right to time off

If you are concerned, you should know that everyone who is considered an employee is entitled to leave if:

  • a dependant dies
  • their child is stillborn or dies before the age of 18

3 – When an employee’s dependant dies
An employee is also entitled to take leave in the event of the death of a dependant. A dependant can be:  

  • their spouse, partner or civil partner
  • their parent
  • their child (if under 18)
  • a person who lives in their household (not tenants, lodgers or employees)
  • a person who would rely on them for help in the event of an accident, illness or injury, such as an elderly neighbour
  • a person who relies on them to make care arrangements

When it comes to money, it should be noted that there is no legal right to remuneration for time off for dependants, but some employers may offer remuneration. Employers and employees should check the employee’s contract or the organisation’s policy.

4 – How much leave can be taken?

In this case, the law is vague and does not say how much time can be taken as a leave in the event of the death of a dependent who is not someone’s child. It simply states that the duration must be “reasonable”.

This leave is intended to deal with unexpected problems and emergencies concerning the dependant, including leave to organise or attend a funeral. You can check here for more information on the absence of work

5 – When an employee’s child dies 

The law is clearer and states that employees are entitled to two weeks’ leave if their child dies before the age of 18 or is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy. This entitlement is called ‘parental bereavement leave’ and is also known as ‘Jack’s Law’.

6 – What happens if the deceased is not a child or a dependent?
There is no legal right to leave in these circumstances. Whether or not the employee is entitled to leave, the employer must show compassion for the employee’s situation. The deceased may not have a biological or legal connection to the employee but may still have a close relationship with the employee.

7 – Why should employers be more compassionate about religious and non-religious funerals?

Employers should be compassionate about a person’s situation and take into account that everyone experiences bereavement differently. Employers should not discriminate against employees when deciding on leave. For example, not allowing an employee to attend a religious service after death could constitute indirect religious discrimination. Employers and employees should agree together on how an employee takes leave for religious and non-religious funerals.

8 –  When an employee or their partner experiences a stillbirth or miscarriage, the time off depends on the following if the child is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy:

  • the biological mother can get up to 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave or pay
  • the birth father can get up to two  weeks of paternity leave or pay
  • the partner of the birth mother or adopter can get up to two  weeks of paternity leave or pay

They will both be entitled to two weeks’ bereavement leave at the end of their maternity or paternity leave. Although the legal name for this leave is ‘statutory maternity leave’ and ‘statutory paternity leave’, some employees may not want to call it ‘maternity leave’ or ‘paternity leave if their baby has died. Employers need to be sensitive to the employee’s preferences and build on them in conversations about leaving.

It is not really fair, but if a miscarriage occurs in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, there is no entitlement to statutory maternity, paternity or parental bereavement leave.

These last two points are mainly addressed to employees. 

9 – As an employee, don’t wait for the hard times to check your bereavement policy. If your organisation has a bereavement policy, it should say:

  • when bereavement leave can apply
  • the length of leave granted by your organisation
  • whether the leave is paid, and the amount of pay.
  • It may be ‘compassionate’, ‘bereavement’ or ‘special’ leave.

10 – If, after your research, you find that there is no policy. The employer should discuss this with the employee:

  • the type of bereavement leave available
  • the duration of the leave available
  • whether the leave will be paid or unpaid.

The leave may be treated as sick leave or, at the employee’s request, as a public holiday. Employers should be consistent and clear in their approach to employee support and confirm any decisions with their employees in writing.

If their organisation does not offer paid time off for a funeral, the employee and employer could agree on using: paid holiday (annual leave), sick pay or unpaid leave.

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