by Rob Grinter, Mark David HR Ltd


I want to talk about a subject that many people find difficult to deal with: bereavement leave and support.

Why is it that we have legislation setting out an employee’s entitlement to paid leave for the happy events in life such as maternity, paternity and adoption but nothing for the stressful time when bereavement leave is needed.

An employee has a legal right to ‘reasonable’ time off work to deal with an emergency, such as a bereavement involving a dependant. What is reasonable is not defined and the time off does not have to be with pay.

Tom Harris, Glasgow South MP has been pushing for legislative change and in November 2013 the Prime Minister said he would look into it.

So where does this leave employers and employees?

Many employers ask me how they should deal with bereavement. Without exception they have a compassionate and supportive attitude but find it difficult to deal consistently with time off requests as people manage their grief in different ways. Also the relationship with the person who died, and the circumstances of the death will have an impact on the employee, particularly if the death was sudden or traumatic.

Similarly employees who are affected by bereavement will wish to know that their employer will be supportive and compassionate in these difficult times.

Both parties will be helped through this emotionally difficult time if the employer is prepared for managing bereavement in the workplace by having a clear policy and by having trained managers with the skills to have compassionate conversations with employees.

A clear policy will enable consistent decisions to be made and will give employees a reassurance that work comes second in such circumstances and that their employer will support them.

Campaigners such as the National Council for Palliative care found that many employees do not get adequate support from employers when they return to work following bereavement. This is an area where trained managers can support employees.

Some employers organisation say that paid leave will be another unnecessary burden on small businesses. In my experience small business owners are compassionate but need help and guidance.

It is also true that people are born and people die. We have legislation granting up to twelve months maternity leave but nothing for a bereaved person. Is it time for this to change?