In the event an employee suffers bereavement, employers need to handle the situation with care and sensitivity.
At times like this, the employee may ask for some time off. Although employees do not have a statutory right to take paid time off work to arrange and attend a funeral, they may be entitled to unpaid time off.
Time off for dependants
Under the Employment Rights Act, employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with emergencies and unforeseen matters involving a dependant. The law states that an employee is entitled to be allowed time off by their employer during the employee’s working hours to take necessary action as a result of a death of a dependant
A dependant could be a spouse or civil partner, child, parent or person who lives in the same household of the employee (this does not apply to tenants or lodgers). The employee must inform you as soon as reasonably practicable of the reason for the time off and of how long they expect to be away from the workplace.
When deciding how much time to allow off, it will depend on the individual circumstances. It could be a few hours or a couple of days. They should be granted a reasonable amount of time to arrange and attend the funeral, but the right does not extend to a right to compassionate or bereavement leave.
Many employers will have a bereavement or compassionate leave policy in their Employee Handbook. Each employer has its own set of rules, but some may choose to exercise their discretion to allow reasonable time off to attend a funeral. They may decide what is ‘reasonable’ on a case by case basis, taking into account the circumstances and the relationship the employee had with the individual. It is up to the employer whether this time off will be paid or unpaid. An Employment Law expert will be able to discuss this in more depth.
Employees’ religious beliefs
Many religions and faiths have different practices and customs, for example, mourning at home following a death. Employers should try and accommodate these requests where it is practical and reasonable to do so and should only say no if there are genuine business reasons to justify the refusal.
Some employees may need to travel abroad to attend a funeral and if possible, you should accommodate this. You may ask them to take annual leave or unpaid leave to cover the whole trip.