An Employer’s Guide to Bereavement Policy
There is often an air of uncertainty around bereavement leave when the issue arises. This is mainly because the bereavement leave law in the UK is a little vague and leaves a lot to the discretion of the employer, with the only real guidance stemming from the Employment Rights Act 1996. As an employer it is your responsibility to understand the law, no matter how vague it may be and develop a corporate policy around this for your employees, then to ensure that this policy is accessible to your employees.
According the Employment rights Act 1996 all workers are entitled to time off for dependants, sometimes referred to as compassionate leave. A dependant is generally defined as a family member or someone who you live with (unless they are paid like a lodger). In the case of a bereavement of a dependant, it is a statutory right that the employee is allowed a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off.
The usual period of time given for bereavement leave is about 3 to 5 days. Gov.uk recommends that one to two days should be enough, however, this really depends on who has suffered the bereavement, how close they were to the deceased and most importantly, the employer’s discretion.
As an employer it is in your best interest to ensure that the employee has appropriate time off to come to terms with the situation and deal with pressing matters such as the funeral and probate arrangements. Building this into your bereavement policy will only save you and your business the hassle and stress of managing an employee who is not ready to return to work or does not know their bereavement leave entitlement when tragedy strikes. By creating this policy and making it accessible for your employees in the staff handbook, you are negating the risk of individual managers making the wrong decision about granting leave.
There is no statutory right to the bereavement leave being paid for an employee. However, it may be in your best interest as an employer to develop a bereavement policy which offers a few days of paid leave. When the time for bereavement leave is needed then a corporate policy to give a few days of paid leave will undoubtedly endear you to your employees and could be well worth it. This of course depends on your business model and if you could afford such a policy but it will likely not come into effect too often.
Occasionally there are reasons why you may not give an employee the bereavement leave that they have asked for. Employees need to inform you of the reason for their absence and how long they expect to be absent for as soon as possible. Although this notice is not required to be in writing, it is important that the employee provides you with enough information about the situation that you can provide them with the correct response.
Although you may be able to refuse certain requests if the employee has not followed correct procedure, you should never deny the employee bereavement leave without consulting an employment law professional to ensure that you are taking a legal course of action.
The Cost of Mishandling Bereavement Leave
If you unfairly deny or put conditions on an employee taking bereavement leave, your business is at serious risk of being taken to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal.
If you’re thinking about creating a bereavement policy for your company or are struggling to deal with a bereavement situation with an employee, contact an employment law specialist today for free and impartial advice on 0161 115 6164.