Supporting an employee through Bereavement

Most employees will experience loss at some point during their working lives as ACAS research estimates that 10% of employees are likely to be affected by bereavement at any given time. Therefore, workplaces must be prepared on knowing how to support a bereaved employee.

Bereavement relates to our experience of losing someone (or something) important to us. It is characterised by grief, which is the process and the range of emotions we go through as we gradually adjust to the loss. This loss can refer to many types including the death of a family member, friend or pet, or from suffering a miscarriage.

To support an employee through bereavement, employers should:

  • Educate and raise awareness about bereavement in the workplace, as it is something that most people will experience. In turn, this will also help employees to know who to go to for help if this happens.
  • Understand the law that it includes: reasonable time off work to deal with emergency’s, not being treated any differently due to a disability (which can in some instances be caused by the bereavement itself), maternity and paternity leave in the event of a stillborn child or the death of a baby after birth, contracted compassionate leave, and the employer’s duty of care.
  • Ensure the company has a policy in place for bereavement or compassionate leave. This will help ensure an understanding between employees and managers on what is expected.
  • Provide support for line managers who are at the core of managing a bereaved employee. This can include providing training on how to reorganise work during the employee’s absence and how to update colleagues in a respectful and sensitive way to the employee.

There are some factors that employers should not do when an employee is suffering from bereavement:

  • Employers should not break confidentiality, as by law employees have the right to keep their bereavement private. Line managers can ask the employee if they would like their work colleagues to know, however in the first instance it is always best to say the absence is for personal reasons.
  • Employers should not forget about the employee’s benefits that they are entitled to during their absence for bereavement. It is useful to remind bereaved employees of the benefits and services that are available to them and their families, which can include counselling for example.
  • Employers should not forget to keep in contact with the employee. Line managers should reach out to offer support and reassurance to the employee. Flexibility of working hours may be required upon the employees return to work, so reassuring the employee that this can be an option for them may ease them on their return. It is good practice to agree how often the manager and employee will communicate after initial contact.

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