There is no specific statutory entitlement 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. There are some factors to consider, however, before making a final decision on how much time off to allow.

When tragedy such as the death of a loved one occurs, an employee may ask for time off work and although the Employment Rights Act 1996 allows unpaid time off to make necessary arrangements following bereavement.

This falls under the ‘time off for dependants’ legislation, which can be used to cover many different events in an employee’s life and is not confined just to when a death has occurred. Legislation states that an employee may take a reasonable amount of time off during working hours in consequence of the death of a dependant. This would generally be in order to make funeral arrangements etc but does not extend to time off to grieve.

It is therefore up to employers to decide how they want to deal with employees who want time off to mourn a loved one. Examples of bereavement leave provisions to include in employment documentation include:

  • X days paid time off
  • X days unpaid time off
  • X days paid followed by X days unpaid

However, individual’s reactions to grief vary considerably and some employees will feel a need to have more time off than others so placing a finite limit on time off may be detrimental to the employee. Pressure to come back to work may exacerbate any other feelings of stress at that time.

What is also significant for the employer to consider is how broad they are willing their contractual provisions to be i.e. which family members will be included within the entitlement. Normally, bereavement leave policies will include immediate family members e.g. spouse, parents, children and siblings. However, close relationships with individuals beyond these may also have a profound effect on an employee; a best friend, for example.

It may be wise, therefore, to have a broad principle on the amount of time taken as bereavement leave, which simply states that, because individual reactions do vary greatly, that the length of bereavement leave, paid or otherwise, will be determined on the basis of individual circumstances.

In doing this though, employers should be careful not to discriminate either intentionally or unintentionally, on any of the protected characteristics contained within the Equality Act 2010.

by Nicola Mullineux

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