It’s a sad fact of life, but we all experience bereavement at some time – but when this happens to someone in your workforce, how do you provide a framework of support? It is important that employers recognise how much of a life-changing experience bereavement is. Every employee deals with it in different ways, and just because somebody doesn’t perhaps take time off work, that doesn’t mean it is business as usual

Best practice guidelines

It’s generally recognised as good practice for an employer to build an entitlement to bereavement leave into their employees’ terms and conditions – but flexibility should be incorporated to consider specific circumstances and whether any time will be paid. Also, by its very nature, the loss of someone close can be impossible to predict, so you need to bear in mind that it may be difficult for an employee to give any kind of notice for a bereavement leave request.

With such a sensitive topic, it’s wise to tread carefully, so you should also consider the following:

  • Returning back to work – a sympathetic approach will help employees make the transition back to work an easier one, so ensure good communication and use your discretion.
  • Phased returns – this may be helpful in some circumstances, and may even be recommended by their GP if they’ve been given a sick note.
  • Employee assistance programmes – if this is available, make sure that employees are reminded that they have free access to this if needed.
  • Flexible working requests – expect these if an employee’s partner has died, leaving them with sole responsibility for raising their children, or if the employee has lost a sibling, leaving them with sole responsibility for caring for ill or aging parents.

In the case of a death of an employee, organisations will need to take a wider approach to ensure that colleagues are supported. In situations where a death occurs in the workplace, support from trauma specialists may be required. These specialists can provide individual and group support on site within 24-48 hours of the incident, and signpost staff to structured counselling services for ongoing support.