When an employee faces a period of bereavement, their employer may have a specific policy whereby employees are entitled to authorised paid leave for certain aspects of funeral arrangements, administration of a dependant’s death and to grieve for their loss. There is no specific statutory entitlement to in relation to taking bereavement leave
, or in relation to pay for time taken off in this way. The employer’s decision to make any payment in respect of the time off is governed by the contract of employment.
The Employment Rights Act 1996 provides a statutory right for an employee to a reasonable amount of time off during working hours in order to take action that is necessary in consequence of the death of a dependant. Again, there is no statutory right to be paid for time taken off in this way but employers should check individual contracts of employment in case contractual provision is made.
A dependant includes an employee's spouse, civil partner, child, parent or a person the employee cared for. Dependants can include people who lived in the same house as the employee as long as they were not employee/tenant/lodger or boarder. If an employer refuses an employee time off for bereavement of a dependant it could lead to the employee making a claim at Employment Tribunal.
Government guidance provides that time off for making funeral arrangements or attending the funeral of a dependant would be covered by this provision.
Sickness absence related to bereavement is not time off that is necessarily 'in consequence of the death of a dependant'.
Bereavement is not an incapacity; however, the relationship between the employee and the deceased, such as a parent or partner, may lead to an employee becoming ill as a reaction to their death. For example, they may be suffering from shock due to the nature of death or depression/anxiety through loss. Employers consequently may get a medical certificate or fit note citing bereavement as the reason for the absence. In this case, in the absence of any contractual sick pay schemes, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) may be payable
The Learning Revolution White Paper, published in March 2009, described a broad vision to aid employers with assisting employees back into work after a period of bereavement. Self-organised learning is recommended to help the bereaved into the workplace whereby a group of people get together to form a bereavement support group. Many employers already maintain informal support groups for their staff because they recognise the benefits it offers their employees and the organisation.
The Department for Work and Pensions proposed to offer tax relief to employers implementing rehabilitation or employee assistance programmes (EAPs)
, which provide information, advice and counselling on a variety of issues which the employee may be experiencing difficulty with in their personal life, such as bereavement. The Chancellor rejected this proposal in his 2011 Budget and classified EAPs as an employee’s benefit thereby exempting EAPs from tax relief.
How to implement a bereavement policy
Increasingly employers are becoming aware that taking a flexible approach when implementing a bereavement policy often ensures that once employees return to work they are in a better position to resume their duties. Employers should be aware that formulating a bereavement policy will not necessary be a “one size fits all”. Individual reactions to bereavement will vary therefore it may not be suitable to be too strict in the provisions of the policy which may not be suitable for every circumstance.
The employer will need to use sympathy in assisting the employee to make the transition back to work. The employer will need to be clear about their bereavement policy in order to relay this expressly to the employee. The period of time an employee requires during the bereavement will differ in respect to each person. When an employer refuses the employee days off and insists the employee returns to work before they are ready it may prolong the total length of absence. Allowing an employee even a few more days more will most likely prevent long term absence in the future.
What needs to be considered in the policy?
• Making the policy discretionary and flexible dependant on the circumstances;
• Details as to whether the employee will be entitled to a paid period of bereavement leave
• Employers should consider allowing authorised unpaid leave for a day as a minimum for the funeral;
• Whether provisions are appropriate in circumstances of the death of a non-dependant;
• Reference to any EAP provided in connection with employment;
• Treat the request with a sympathetic ear, patience and understanding.
For any further information on bereavement, please give the Peninsula Advice Service a call on 0844 892 2772.