Staff on bereavement leave: should you pay them?

Kate Palmer - HR Advice and Consultancy Director

October 02 2018

The death of a loved one is an experience that goes beyond what the word ‘painful’ could ever describe. Perhaps no single word in English even exists to match its impact, devastation and desolation. Although we in the West don’t like to think about death, it’s life’s sole inevitability. So we must prepare ourselves to deal with bereavement in the workplace. Yet confusion surrounds it. Both employers and employees are often unsure about workplace rights once someone close dies. Do you get automatic leave? Is there a statutory payment? How close does the deceased person have to be to qualify? Is there anything to qualify for at all? A new law coming in 2020 will give certain employees rights to paid bereavement leave. However, until that point, giving bereavement leave is your choice. Parental Bereavement Leave The Government recently passed the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018, with Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst explaining that “Parental Bereavement Leave [will become] a legal right for the first time in the UK’s history.” As a result, the Act’s passing will improve the protection for working parents during such a distressing time, helping them to avoid having to rush back to work too early when still in a fragile state of mind. Working parents will get a day-one right (meaning they get it as soon as they start their roles) of two weeks’ leave should they suffer the loss of a child under the age of 18 or a miscarriage after 24 weeks of pregnancy. They’ll also be able to claim pay for this period, should they be eligible. How will the law define a ‘parent’? At the moment, we don’t know who qualifies as a parent. It may only apply to biological parents, but it may extend to include foster parents, adoptive parents and legal guardians. There’s also no confirmation of the rate of pay during this leave nor how eligible parents should notify their employer that they've lost a child. The Government will confirm the full details on a future date before including them in the final regulations. Bereavement leave Despite bereavement being so traumatic, no law currently offers staff any form of extended leave or pay for any leave you may grant them. The closest would be the right to time off for dependants (TOD), which gives all employees the right to a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off to deal with an emergency, but it tends to cover up to just two days’ absence. You have the responsibility As an employer, you decide how your organisation deals with bereavement leave. You may put great importance on it and offer paid leave as part of a competitive benefits package. It’s on you to decide how much to pay and how much time off to allow. Whichever way you choose to manage staff who lose a loved one, make sure you have a written policy to explain your organisation’s position in full.

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