COVID-19 & Bereavement: Here's How Employers Can Help

Peninsula Team

November 09 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has so far claimed more than 10,000 lives in Canada. Due to travel restrictions or visitor limits at hospitals, many may have missed out on being with their ailing family members in their final moments.

Some may have exchanged last words over a video call. Close contacts in quarantine or at-risk relatives may have had to attend the funeral remotely.

Grieving families may not be able to hold a proper memorial service till the pandemic is over.

Your employees may have lost their family members to COVID-19. Coping with such loss is never easy. It becomes even more traumatic when it is unexpected, and public safety guidance requires you to socially distance, and not kiss or touch the body as you say the final goodbye.

How can employers support grieving staff?

Everyone grieves differently. Some may take weeks and months to heal, and others may need years to be able to adjust to life without their beloved family member.

However, the disruption of grieving rituals during the pandemic, combined with loss of social contact and financial stresses, may further prolong and complicate bereavement.  

As the employer, you can provide a supportive environment to help employees manage their grief.

Showing compassion to your staff during this terrible crisis is not just the right thing to do, it’ll also strengthen your work culture. A workplace where employee wellbeing is valued is a workplace that retains its staff.

We suggest that you:

Have a strong bereavement leave policy

While you must provide the minimum unpaid leave set down in your province’s employment standards (three days in Alberta and British Columbia; two in Ontario), it may not suffice.

Two or three days may just be enough to take care of funeral arrangements and other such matters. Depending on how many days you can afford to, you may want to provide paid bereavement leave to your staff.

According to health experts, those who have lost loved ones during this pandemic report severe symptoms of traumatic stress. They experience feelings such as anger, guilt, sadness, numbness that only compounds their grief.

If your worker is still in shock and needs more time off, you may also want to consider unpaid bereavement leave. Alternatively, you could allow them to combine their vacation leave with paid bereavement leave.

Cut your employee some slack

While some people deal with grief by throwing themselves into work, others may find it hard to just get through the day. Your employee may experience social withdrawal, anxiety, lower productivity, mood swings or difficulty concentrating at work.

You can ease their transition into a normal work routine by reducing their workload, allowing them to work from home or work flexible hours.  

Regularly check in with your employee

You may have spoken to your employee to express your condolences on hearing of their loss. But it is also important to regularly check in with them over the next few weeks. It can be a conversation as simple and brief as enquiring after their wellbeing and letting them know that you're there to support them.

Regular check-ins will also help you spot signs of grief getting out of control, such as depression, aggression or substance abuse. If that is the case, you should get your employee the help they need.

Provide grief counselling through EAP

A grief counsellor will help your employee learn coping strategies to handle their loss better. Make sure your bereaved employee knows of the grief counselling services available through your EAP program.

If your company does not offer an EAP, you should get one. Or you could connect your employee to a grief counsellor through a community agency such as a hospice.  

It may also be useful to conduct workshops on supporting grieving colleagues in the workplace through your EAP provider. Not only will such classes help you and your staff know what to say (or not) to a bereaved co-worker, but also train you to pick signs when someone is managing their grief poorly.

Do you need help creating an effective bereavement leave policy?

For HR and health and safety advice during the pandemic, call an expert today: 1(888) 247-3652.

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