During an individual’s working life, they are likely to experience the death of a loved one. This can affect people in different ways, but inevitably may impact their work. It is important that an employer is sensitive to each person’s needs during this time and that they consider the individual’s physical and emotional well-being, continuing this when they have returned to the workplace. It is also important for employers to acknowledge that grief can affect employees differently and is not a linear process. It is beneficial to ensure that employers have the correct policies and procedures in place to support an employee through bereavement.
Legally, an employee only has a right for time off if the person who died was a dependent. A dependent could be their spouse, partner or civil partner, their parent, their child, or a person who relies on them for help or to make care arrangements. The time off could be for dealing with unexpected issues and emergencies involving the dependent, including leave to arrange or attend a funeral. By law, this right to time off does not have to be paid, but some employers may offer paid leave which should be outlined in company policies. The law does not say how much time can be taken off if a dependent who is not someone's child dies, but it does specify the amount should be 'reasonable'.
If an employee’s child dies, they have the right to 2 weeks’ paid bereavement leave. This is for a child under the age of 18 or a stillborn child after 24 weeks of pregnancy. The Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Regulations, also known as Jack’s Law, came into effect in 2020. Employed parents can take the leave as either a single block of 2 weeks, or as 2 separate blocks of one week each taken at different times across the first year after their child’s death.
If the person who died is not a dependent, the employee has no legal right to time off work, but employers should bear in mind that everyone experiences grief in different ways and even though a person may not have a biological or legal connection to the person that has died, they may still be closely connected. Therefore, employers should show compassion and be mindful of individual situations and discuss what leave might be available. Time off could be treated as sick leave or taken as holiday if this is agreed between the employer and employee.
Employers should not discriminate against any employees when deciding whether to permit time off paid or unpaid. Having a bereavement policy in place can help employers ensure they are treating employees fairly and consistently. A bereavement policy might be called 'compassionate', 'bereavement' or 'special' leave and should outline the situations in which bereavement leave applies, how much leave the employee is entitled to and whether the leave is paid and the amount of pay. If there is no policy for bereavement leave, then the employer and employee should discuss how much time off is available and whether this is paid or unpaid. The approach should be clear and consistent, and confirmed between employee and employer in writing.
ACAS has published advice, helping employers navigate the rules around time off work for bereavement when handling staff bereavement, and understanding an employee’s legal right to time off. Their advice covers:
At Hegarty Solicitors, our experienced lawyers can help employers to draft and/or review their bereavement policies, ensuring fair outcomes for both employers and employees.