Bereavement Leave

09 July 2019

Many people will face the loss of someone close to them during their lifetime.

As an employer, you should be understanding and give your employees enough time for mourning.

Not providing bereavement leave to grieving employees can result in a lack of trust and reduced productivity.

In this guide, we'll discuss bereavement leave, the law around it, and advice on how to create a bereavement policy in your company.

What is bereavement leave?

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

It’s also sometimes known as funeral leave or compassionate leave.

Why is bereavement leave important?

Because each employee deals with grief differently, a period of bereavement can provide them with the time needed to heal. Other reasons why bereavement leave is important are that it allows employees to:

  • Handle grief both mentally and physically.
  • Spend time with their loved ones.
  • Make plans for funeral arrangements.
  • Finish the legal and financial paperwork for a loved one's will.
  • Take a break and refresh after resolving issues related to the deceased.

A bereavement policy allows employees to deal with differing stages of grief. This can happen intermittently for an extended time after a loss.

Someone sitting on the floor.

What is the UK law on bereavement leave?

In the UK, there is no specific law on offering bereavement leave in general. However, under certain situations, parents can take up to two weeks' paid leave to deal with the death of a child.

Those who are self-employed or classed as workers can receive the leave if the employer confirms it.

Who is considered immediate family for bereavement leave?

When it comes to bereavement leave, there are several people who qualify as immediate family. For example:

  • Spouse, partner or civil partner.
  • Child and step-child.
  • Parent and step-parent.
  • Siblings and step-siblings.
  • In-laws.
  • Grandparent and grandchild.
  • Niece and nephew.

A dependent can also be someone who reasonably relies on your employee for help in an emergency. This could be an elderly neighbour who lives alone near them.

Some employers provide time off when a family pet dies too.

You should be lenient and consider the individual circumstances, and whether the employee is fit to work.

How long is bereavement leave?

There is no specific length of time off work that your employees are entitled to following the death of a family member.

However, two weeks’ leave is allowed for parents upon the death or stillbirth of their child after 24 weeks of pregnancy. This is known as statutory parental bereavement leave.

For other family members, most employers provide three to five days, but note that every company has different policies and uses their discretion differently.

You can also agree with your employees (on a case-by-case basis) to use part of their sick leave or annual leave during these difficult times.

What happens if you don’t offer bereavement leave?

The very first risks that an employer can face after an employee's grief are decreased productivity and a lack of trust.

If you don't offer bereavement leave to your staff, it can cause increased staff turnover, increased absenteeism, and reputational damage.

What is statutory parental bereavement leave and pay?

Parental bereavement leave and pay is the right to take up to two weeks of paid time off work to deal with a child's death.

This applies if the employee's child died before turning 18 or if they suffered from a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Parental bereavement leave

Your employees can take two weeks' statutory leave from the first day of their employment for each child who has died or was stillborn.

They must meet the qualifying criteria both as a parent (or adoptive parent) and an employee. A minimum of 26 weeks' continuous employment before the child's death is required for parents and caregivers to qualify for paid bereavement leave.

They can choose to take either of the following options for statutory leave:

  • Only one week.
  • Two whole weeks.
  • Two separate weeks.

There might be instances where an employee’s parental bereavement leave is interrupted by the start of another type of statutory leave. For example, maternity leave, paternity leave, or shared parental leave.

In these cases, they can take their remaining parental bereavement leave after the other leave has ended. They must take their remaining entitlement within 56 weeks of the date their child died or the date of stillbirth.

Statutory parental bereavement pay

Eligible parents get either £156.66 a week or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).

Any money they get should be paid the same way as their salary. For example, weekly or monthly, including national insurance and tax deductions.

Someone with their head in their hands.

How to create a bereavement policy

Creating a bereavement (or compassionate) leave policy is important for all types of businesses, regardless of size. It simplifies the bereavement leave process for both you and your employees during a tough time.

The policy should be accessible to all line managers, employees, HR staff, and other colleagues involved in the decision to take leave.

To create a bereavement leave policy, take into account the following steps:

Decide on the length of time and pay to grant grieving employees

Decide on how much leave affected employees will earn in the case of a loss. Specify how much of that time will be paid and how much won't.

The standard amount of paid time off from the majority of employers is typically three days, but this depends on your company's decisions and values.

For any other losses, including those to extended families and friends, many employers offer at least one day of paid time off.

Take into account employees who need to make long-term arrangements, such as for deaths that happen outside of the country. Your policy should take these options into consideration in addition to the typical days of paid leave.

Offer support

It's vital to be sympathetic and understanding towards employees who are grieving the loss of a loved one, as this can happen to anyone.

The first statement in a bereavement leave policy can help develop support and trust by expressing your concern for bereaved employees.

As a good practice, consider the possibility of a phased return with remote working or reduced hours in the policy.

Clarify the policies

A sound policy should clearly outline how the employer and employee will handle the leave.

Clarify the processes that an employee should follow in the case of a loss. This includes who to contact and how to arrange time off from work.

Make an official document

Put your policy in written format once you've decided on it. Create a digital document that's included in both the printed and online editions of employment handbooks.

Make sure that everyone on the HR team is aware of the requirements and procedures for initiating an employee's bereavement leave.

Get advice on bereavement leave from Peninsula

Employers should be supportive of recently bereaved staff members, offering time off to grieve and make funeral preparations.

Failing to provide bereavement leave to employees who need it harms your business and damages your reputation.

Peninsula offers 24/7 HR advice which is available 365 days a year. We take care of everything when you work with our HR experts.

Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 051 3687 and book a free consultation with one of our HR consultants.

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