What are my employer responsibilities in relation to bereavement leave?

121 HR Solutions recently supported a client with a query relating to bereavement leave, or compassionate leave as it is commonly known.

The law relating to bereavement leave is not clearly defined in the UK, other than statutory parental bereavement leave.

The Employment Rights Act 1996 provides that anyone classed as an employee has the right to take ‘a reasonable amount of time’ off work to deal with emergencies and issues relating to dependants, including to care for a dependant who falls ill or following the death of a dependant to arrange or attend a funeral.

Employees are not automatically entitled to paid time off for bereavement leave. However, many employers offer provision for paid leave in the event of a bereavement in support of employee wellbeing, which should be set out as a contractual term or as part of the relevant policy on bereavement or absence.

What constitutes ‘reasonable’ following the death of a dependant is not statutorily defined so how long employees can take for bereavement leave should be documented within the employment contract or Employee Handbook. Generally, between two and five days bereavement leave would be considered reasonable in most circumstances.

Employers should also respect and accommodate employees’ religious beliefs and customs following the death of a loved one. In particular, under the Equality Act 2010, refusing to allow an employee sufficient time for mourning rituals that form a part of their faith could be considered indirect discrimination.

While an employee is absent from work, the employer is under a duty to maintain reasonable contact and to support their return to work while respecting their physical and mental wellbeing.

Ideally, employers should be flexible when it comes to supporting valued employees during such an emotionally difficult time. This includes discussing options for further time off work using their entitlement to paid annual leave or a flexible working arrangement for a short time, particularly if the employee has new caring responsibilities following their loss.

121 HR Solutions can assist with policy updates if you feel this topic requires attention in your workplace.  Contact us at enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk and we can discuss.

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