Everything employers should know about bereavement leave

Moira Grassick - Chief Operating Officer

November 14 2022

First published: February 28th 2013
Last updated: November 14th 2022 

Do employees have a legal right to bereavement leave?

There are many different types of leave an employee is entitled to during their employment. In addition to the statutory leave provided for under employment laws, there are some discretionary types of leave a company may also provide.

Bereavement leave – at the employer’s discretion

One such discretionary leave is bereavement or compassionate leave. This occurs under unfortunate circumstances where staff receive paid time off following the death of a close family member or friend.

Paid time off to deal with a death in the family is a discretionary form of leave. While there's no statutory obligation to do so, business owners should aim to give employees some time to grieve after losing a loved one.

Is bereavement leave included in your Employee Handbook?

Any leave that employees are entitled to should be set out in their employment contract or the Employee Handbook. However, bereavement leave could also be implied into the employment contract through custom and practice within your business.

Even if your employment contracts and documentation are silent on bereavement leave, employees may have a right to take bereavement leave if they can demonstrate that your business has an established practice of granting a minimum amount of paid leave to bereaved staff.

How much time off should employers give for bereavement leave?

The amount of leave granted can vary from business to business and will, to a large extent, depend on the proximity of the employee’s relationship with the deceased relative. There is no standard length of time that employers should provide to grieving staff.

Employers will need to exercise their judgment and communicate with the employee involved to determine when they are ready to come back to work.  

What about pay?

For bereavement leave, up to three days’ paid leave following the death of close family members is common. Some businesses may provide five days’ paid leave. What is appropriate in the circumstances is at the discretion of the employer.

What defines a close family member?

A close family member is generally defined as a spouse or civil partner, daughter, son, parent, sister or brother and may include grandparents or a father in law, for instance. In the event of the death of a grandparent, an in-law, aunt or uncle, one day of paid bereavement leave is typical.

However, custom and practice will also need to be borne in mind. If employees have received paid time off following a family bereavement in the past, it could be considered unfair not to give the same amount of time off to all employees. This is why it is useful to have a bereavement leave policy in place that can be applied consistently.

It's prudent to have a detailed policy if your business does differentiate between the number of days provided for different relationships, and these details should be clearly stated in the policy.

Need help developing a bereavement leave policy?

The best way to manage discretionary policies like bereavement leave is to keep your employment documentation up to date.

For instant HR advice and documentation support, call your adviser today.

Or, if you’re not yet a Peninsula client, call 1800 719 216 for a free consultation.

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