Outlining bereavement leave for employees

Outlining bereavement leave for employees

Q: Are my employees entitled to bereavement leave?

A: It is common for employers to offer bereavement leave to staff who suffer the loss of a close friend or family member, recognising that time away from work can be an important part of the grieving process.

As a result, many employees assume they are legally entitled to this leave. However, this is not the case, and an individual’s ability to take bereavement leave will instead differ from one employer to the next.

Perhaps an explanation for this misunderstanding is the fact that eligible staff are separately entitled to a brief period of unpaid leave to care for a dependant. This unpaid leave allows employees time off work to deal with an emergency situation involving a child, relative or other individual to whom they provide care, and which may be used immediately following a death. 

But this statutory right is entirely different from bereavement leave and allows only a reasonable amount of time off, which in practice is typically one or two working days.

To determine whether your employees are entitled to bereavement leave you will need to review your own workplace policies.

Those who do offer this leave should have a separate bereavement leave policy in place that outlines the purpose of the leave and how employees are expected to notify you if they intend to take it.

Well-constructed policies will also detail how long individuals are allowed to take bereavement leave for, and whether they will be paid during this period.

As staff have no legal entitlement to this leave, any decision on duration and pay will be totally down to you; however, you must make sure these are applied fairly for everyone.

Difficulties can occur if, having used up their full allocation of bereavement leave, the employee still feels unable to return to work. 

Although you may be inclined to treat this individual as absent without authorisation, you should consider the circumstances and look to come to a compromise.

Given the gravity of the situation, it may be that the employee is suffering with mental ill health, and if this is the case you should revert to your sickness absence policy when taking further action. 

Ultimately, whether or not you choose to offer bereavement leave will be down to you as a business owner.

If this is not something you currently offer, you should consider how bereavement leave could form part of a competitive benefits package and have a positive impact on employee wellbeing during such a difficult time.

Peter Done is managing director of law firm Peninsula