Bereavement leave – what does the law say?

Unlike many other countries around the world, there are no specific statutory rights for workers to take leave for compassionate or bereavement reasons in the UK.

Research by the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC) revealed 56% of workers would consider leaving an employer that had not supported them after the death of a loved one. Do not allow relationships to sour and employees to leave. Make sure you know what employees’ statutory rights are and what else you can do to ensure the employee is supported at this difficult time.

Statutory rights

Under the Employment Rights Act, all employees, irrespective of their length of service, are entitled to the right to time off to deal with emergencies and unforeseen matters involving a dependant.

A dependant could be any of the following:

  • spouse or civil partner
  • child
  • parent
  • person who lives in the same household of the employee, however this does not apply to tenants or lodgers
  • a person, such as an elderly neighbour, who reasonably relies on the employee to provide assistance if they are sick or need help making care arrangements for themselves.

If an employee is seeking time off in consequence of a death, they should be granted leave to arrange and attend the funeral, but the right does not extend to a right to compassionate or bereavement leave as the right does not extend to cover time off for grieving or mourning.

Employees are entitled to a “reasonable” amount of time off. This could be a few hours or one or two days. It will all depend on the individual circumstances. When considering what is a reasonable amount of time off work, employers cannot take into account the disruption the employee’s absence will cause to the business.

Employees have no legal right to be paid for this time off, but some employers do, however, offer a contractual right to pay for this time off.

Due to the fact that this time off is to deal with emergencies and immediate crises, employees do not need to provide notice in writing. Nevertheless, the employee must inform you – as soon as they can – of the reason for the time off. They must also notify you for how long they expect to be away from the workplace.

Non statutory rights

Even though statute does not provide rights to bereavement or compassionate leave, many employers will have a policy in place which deals with time off to deal with loss. This should be included in the employee’s Contract of Employment or Employee Handbook.

In your policy, you may decide to provide a stated number of days of paid or unpaid periods of compassionate leave. Alternatively, you may provide different lengths of leave according to who has suffered the loss, for example you may grant more time for the loss of a partner than a grandparent. You may also decide to grant additional leave depending on the facts of the individual case.

Allowing some flexibility and discretion can be useful as the way people deal with bereavement and their individual needs will vary from case to case. However, the policy should be implemented in a fair and non-discriminatory way.

If you wish to discuss this further, contact your Employment Law Adviser who can provide with bespoke and comprehensive advice.

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