There has been a lot of recent media coverage regarding whether we do enough in the UK to help employees who have been bereaved.
A recent survey by the Change Bereavement Leave campaign found that 7 out of 10 people believed the law should be changed and that there should be a national minimum period of paid leave when people lose a loved one.
As you may be aware, the minimum legal position is that employees have the right to take unpaid ‘emergency leave’ for dependents. This would potentially cover taking time off when someone dies or to attend a funeral, but it is limited to a ‘reasonable’ time, which ACAS advise would usually be only a day or two. It would also only apply to ‘dependents’ which would cover a child or spouse/partner or someone else who depends on the employee, but not necessarily any wider family.
In our experience, virtually all employers do give employees a period of paid compassionate leave – sometimes the amount is specified in the policy or handbook. However, as this is entirely voluntary, the length of leave and the breadth of application of the employer’s policy can vary significantly – some may give leave where an aunty or uncle dies, whereas others may limit the leave to where the employee has lost a parent, child or grandparent. Sometimes policy can even vary within an organisation when left to the discretion of different managers.
The difficulty for employers is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to bereavement. Some people feel that it is best for them to get back to work, whereas others may need more time to grieve – and those positions are not necessarily directly linked to the perceived closeness of the relationship. Employees may need to be allowed a combination of compassionate leave, unpaid time off and annual leave (and, where appropriate, sick leave). It is also important to remember that the leave will not necessarily need to be in one block – it may depend on the individual circumstances.
As far as we are aware, the Government has not yet commented on whether it has any plans to implement statutory bereavement leave. Based on our dealings with employers and employees, we find it is extremely unusual for an employee not to be given at least some compassionate leave, so it is not clear whether there is enough of a problem to justify legislation.
It is however something that all organisations need to consider carefully, as employees who are unhappy with their employer’s approach may vote with their feet. A report by the National Council for Palliative Care found that over half of those interviewed would consider leaving their job if their employer did not provide proper support if someone close passed away.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected]).