Employee Guide to Bereavement Leave

30 November 2017

When you lose someone close to you, it’s important to allow yourself some time away from work to grieve and come to terms with your loss.

What is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave, sometimes known as compassionate leave, is time off from work that is granted to employees after a member of their immediate family or household dies or suffers a life-threatening illness or injury.

Employers are not required to grant or pay employees while they are on bereavement leave, unless the contract of employment provides for such, although some may choose to.

Am I Entitled to Bereavement Leave?

Currently the law in England and Wales does not require employers to grant paid bereavement leave to employees. However, under the Employment Rights Act 1996, employers are expected to allow employees a reasonable amount of unpaid leave after an unforeseen matter or emergency has occurred involving a dependent (for example a child or someone else that depends on you for care).

This can include time off work to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies involving your spouse, partner or child. It can also include time to arrange a funeral and/or to attend a funeral. When an employee suffers a bereavement, this can be placed into the category of “unforeseen matter or emergency.”

How Long am I Entitled to Take?

The law does not stipulate to employers exactly how much leave should be granted to employees, so it is at the discretion of the employer to decide how long the employee shall be given. Some employers may stipulate that the employee returns to work after one or two days, while others may decide on a case-by-case basis.

Most employers will have a bereavement leave policy in place, which should provide some guidance on how long you can expect to be able to take. If your employer has a bereavement or compassionate leave policy, then it’s a good idea to refer to this in the first instance.

If you don’t feel ready to return to work after you have taken the amount of leave that you are entitled to, then you may be able to utilise your annual leave to extend your absence. You can discuss this option with your employer.

If you still don’t feel ready to return to work after your annual leave allowance has been used, then you could discuss the option of long-term compassionate leave with your employer. This would usually be unpaid.

What if My Employer Refuses Bereavement Leave?

Everyone deals with bereavement differently. While some employees may cope reasonably well, others may struggle to come to terms with their loss. This can affect work productivity as well as relationships with managers and colleagues. Most employers understand this and will try to accommodate an employee’s needs in these circumstances, ensuring that they do not return to work before they are ready.

However, as previously mentioned, your employer is not legally obliged to grant bereavement leave, unless the terms of this are set out in your contract.

If your employer refused to grant leave following the death of someone close to you, then the first step would be to raise a grievance within the company. This could be with your manager, a more senior manager or a HR representative.

You should explain the situation fully and discuss the options with them. If you are unable to reach an agreement with your employer and you are struggling to cope at work, your GP may choose to sign you off work until they feel you are fit to return.

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