Bereavement leave

09 July 2019

Unfortunately, most people will experience the loss of somebody close to them at some point during their career.

When this happens, it’s only natural that your grieving employee will want to take time off for the funeral, and to spend time with their family.

But you can’t dictate how long someone will need to grieve. And the rules on the number of bereavement days off in the UK can be confusing.

Read our guide on bereavement and time off work, which family members you need to offer leave for, and the rules on compassionate pay.

What is bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave is the period of time someone is granted off work following the death of a family member or loved one.

This allows the worker time for grieving and managing bereavement matters, such as arranging or attending a funeral. It’s also sometimes known as funeral leave.

What is compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave is often used interchangeably with bereavement leave, however it isn’t quite the same.

Compassionate leave from work can be due to the death of a family member or friend, but can also be due to terminal illness or serious injury of a loved one.

How long is bereavement leave in the UK?

There’s no simple answer on bereavement leave entitlements, as there aren’t many rules about statutory bereavement leave.

UK bereavement leave laws only require you to offer leave to parents following the loss of a child. Parental bereavement leave gives employees the right to take up to two weeks off following the loss of a child under the age of 18. Or following a stillbirth after 24 weeks.

Parental bereavement leave must be taken within 56 weeks of the child’s death. And it can be taken in a single block of two weeks, or two blocks of one week.

Employees who’ve worked for you for at least 26 weeks may also be entitled to statutory parental bereavement pay. This is the same as rates of other forms of parental leave.

How long is compassionate leave in the UK?

Despite not having statutory compassionate leave entitlement, employees do have some compassionate leave rights. Staff can take a “reasonable” number of days off to deal with emergencies, including the death of a dependant. However, this doesn’t cover time off to grieve.

There’s no set number of days that you must give your staff as part of bereavement or compassionate leave entitlement in the UK. Acas suggests one or two days is enough time to deal with an emergency, but you might want to give your employee more time if they’re grieving. Many businesses give three to five unpaid days for bereavement leave.

Deciding on the right number of days can be tricky. On the one hand, you need to make sure you give your employee enough time to come to terms with their loss.

But if you give your employee too many days off, it might lead to them feeling lonely and isolated. This can result in them taking sick leave and being absent from work for a prolonged period.

What family members qualify for bereavement leave?

The Employment Rights Act 1996 defines a dependant as a:

  • Spouse.
  • Partner.
  • Child.
  • Parent.
  • Individual that your employee provides care for.

However, not everyone fits into a nuclear family unit, so it’s important to be lenient.

You should consider the individual circumstances, and whether the employee is fit to work, rather than basing your decision on who the deceased person was.

People may request compassionate leave for their grandparents, or other family members they were close to. Some companies provide bereavement time off when a family pet dies too.

Do you get paid for compassionate leave?

Bereavement time off laws don’t require you to pay staff for time off in most circumstances.

However, doing so can give people the space they need to, without the added worry of what their next pay-check will look like.

If you decide to offer paid bereavement leave or compassionate pay, you should have a bereavement leave policy in place.

This will ensure consistency and avoid disputes. An employee could raise a grievance if you deny their bereavement leave request after granting it to someone else, if you don’t have a clear policy in place.

Include the bereavement leave policy in your company handbook.

Sick note due to bereavement

It’s hard to imagine that a week will be enough time off for a death in the family. Some people may struggle to come to terms with their loss for much longer.

In those cases, they may seek support from a medical professional.

A doctor can provide a bereavement leave sick note, this fit note enables staff to take time off if they’re struggling with the loss.

You should be mindful of the toll a loss can take. After a bereavement, sickness absence can become absenteeism.

You may have to intervene if the problem escalates. But be mindful of the difficulties they could be facing, and offer support, rather than starting a disciplinary process.

Expert support on bereavement leave with Peninsula

The rules on time off work for bereavement in the UK aren’t very specific, and in most cases it’s up to you to decide what’s right for your staff.

Without a clear policy on bereavement and compassionate leave, you risk being inconsistent with granting leave requests, which can result in staff raising grievances.

Alternatively, if you don’t give your employees enough space to process their loss, you risk worsening their mental health.

Let our expert team draft your bereavement leave policy to protect your staff wellbeing. If you have any urgent questions about bereavement leave, contact us for immediate support on 0800 028 2420.

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