Research carried out by Co-op Funeralcare in February found that 58% of adults in the UK feel pressured to return to work after the loss of a loved one, with one in four feeling isolated or actively avoided by colleagues after returning. In addition, 31% felt that they had to justify their level of grief following the death of someone who was not in their immediate family.
So what entitlement do employees have to take time off work after the death of someone close to them, and what support should they be offered when they return?
Bereavement Leave / Compassionate Leave
While there is currently no formal legal requirement in England and Wales for employers to offer paid bereavement leave to employees, they are expected to allow a reasonable amount of unpaid leave following an unforeseen matter or emergency involving a dependent. When an employee suffers a bereavement, this can be classed as an unforeseen matter or emergency.
Regardless of the legal requirements, most employers recognise the importance of allowing employees to take time away from work to grieve. Many employers have a Bereavement Leave (or Compassionate Leave) Policy in place and many do offer employees paid leave in these circumstances.
If an employer has a Bereavement / Compassionate Leave Policy then details of this are likely to be set out in the employment contract or employee handbook. This should outline how long employees can expect to take off after the death of a family member. Some employers may have set guidelines while others may choose to grant reasonable time off on a case-by-case basis.
Typically, paid bereavement leave that is offered by employers tends to be between 2 and 5 days. However, in response to the research carried out by Co-op Funeralcare, 30% of people said that they did not feel truly ready to return to work for more than 2 weeks after their loss.
If an employee feels that they need more time off then they should discuss this with their employer. Many employers will make allowances where possible and they may agree to the employee taking a longer period of unpaid leave, but it’s important to note that an employer is not required to do so by law.
For more information, see our Employee Guide to Bereavement Leave.
Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill
If an employee is a parent who loses a child, again there is currently no legal requirement to grant paid bereavement leave. However, there is a proposed Bill currently going through Parliament which would entitle parents who lose a child to 2 weeks’ paid bereavement leave. This is called the Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill.
While the Government currently expects employers to respond in a compassionate way and offer flexibility to employees coming to terms with the loss of a child, they acknowledge that not all employers will act in this way. The Bill seeks to address this. However, it has not yet been confirmed if this law will be passed and when it will come into force if it is.
Support when Returning to Work
In the Co-op Funeralcare research, 58% of respondents stated that they feel pressured to return to work after a bereavement, with 4 in 10 saying that they felt isolated at work after returning. So what support should bereaved employees be offered when returning to work after the death of a loved one?
There is no specific legal requirement for employers to make any particular allowances for an employee who is returning to work after a bereavement.
Regardless of this, many employers will work to support bereaved employees when they return to work depending on the employee’s individual circumstances. ACAS provides guidelines to employers suggesting that a bereaved employee is likely to need additional support in the workplace and that this should be acknowledged by the employer.
In addition, there are some circumstances in which a bereaved employee might be protected under Employment Law for other reasons. For example, grief can sometimes be a trigger for a mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If an employee is suffering with a mental health condition which becomes a long-term disability then their employer could be legally required to make reasonable adjustments to support them in the workplace.
ACAS also highlights that bereaved single parents could require further adjustments such as flexible working or a change to their working hours.
Struggling to Return to Work after a Bereavement
If you’re struggling with returning to work after the death of someone close to you, speak to your employer in the first instance to explain the situation and see if you can come to an agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached and you do not feel that you are being treated reasonably, then you can choose to raise a formal grievance using your employer’s grievance procedure. You can also speak to an Employment Solicitor to establish whether you may have grounds to make an Employment Tribunal Claim.
If you feel that you’re unable to cope with going back to work, then you can speak to your GP who may take the decision to sign you off until you are able to return.
For employment law advice call our Employment Solicitors on 03306069589 or contact us online and we will call you.