Losing a loved one is a very sensitive matter. Any employer should approach this issue with care and consideration. Many people find this topic difficult to talk about or express their feelings openly. Therefore, employers and HR managers need to be aware of the best practices for approaching bereavement leave. It will help manage the situation and comfort employees in their time of grief.
Today, we’re going to look at the ins and outs of this delicate matter and some best practices for approaching this type of leave.
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Bereavement Leave Meaning
A question many workers may ponder is “Can I have time off work for the death of a family member?” Although there is no statutory UK bereavement leave. Employees can take a “reasonable” number of days off as time off for dependants, but this time is to deal with an emergency situation, including the death of a dependant. Many employers, however, do offer this type of leave known as bereavement or compassionate leave.
What is Bereavement Leave?
Bereavement is the period of mourning after the death of a loved one. It is typical for people to experience grief during this time. Grief affects us all in different ways. Some may cope better than others. Yet, in some cases, people may be incapable of carrying out the simplest of tasks, let alone working. In this case, it is common for employees to ask for annual leave or time off for depression in order to grieve at home alone or with family. Not only this, but employees may have to deal with a whole host of tasks including funeral arrangements and other pressing post-death matters where taking time off for stress is also a contributing factor.
Time taken away from work to deal with these matters is most commonly known as bereavement time off, although as everyone’s personal situation differs, this leave may lay under other categories too.
Of course, when a member of your team suffers a loss, it’s a tough time for everyone. Employees work together every day, and some develop lifelong relationships. As such, colleagues may also feel the burden of another worker’s loss. Morale may be low and it may seem as if there’s a grey cloud hanging over the office. While thinking about the business is important, taking care of your employees and prioritising their well-being should also be high up on your list of priorities.
As an employer, it is important that you know the best approach to take to support your employees during this difficult time.
What is your Entitlement to Bereavement Leave
So, who do you get bereavement leave for? Typically, it is offered to those who have lost an immediate family member or partner. However, in some cases, this may be extended to the death of other relatives and close friends or associates.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Employees may ask you, “How much time can I take off for bereavement?” As previously stated, there are no official laws regarding bereavement time off. Therefore, employers are not obligated to provide paid or unpaid time off in this case. However, The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.
FMLA requires some employers to provide their workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for specific health and family reasons. FMLA leave is not a type of compassionate leave. However, in some cases employees can use this Act to have leave during times of loss. For instance, a worker may be able to use the FMLA to get leave to take care of a dying family member, or for grief counselling.
How Many Days Are You Entitled To For Bereavement in the UK?
It is a common question to inquire how much time off for bereavement is allocated to employees. For cases that are not supported by the FMLA, there are some general guidelines that can be followed here.
Most organisations offer employee time off for bereavement for up to three days in their bereavement leave policy. This is in the case of an immediate family member or partner. Yet, one day is usually only offered for more distant relatives and friends. This is because, in this case, it is thought that less personal time is needed for arrangements related to death. These are tasks that are typically carried out by closer family members.
It is up to the employer to decide whether this time is paid or not. That being said, it is good practice to pay the first three to five days of this leave. Although the FMLA provides the opportunity for employees to take time off, it does not obligate employers to provide paid time off.
Bereavement Leave Policy
It is important to have an employee bereavement policy in place for when a worker comes to you with a leave request of this type. If you don’t already have one, then here are some simple guidelines for what to include in yours.
Amount of Time Off
First and foremost, it is important to establish the amount of time off you’re willing to give to your employees for a bereavement. The most common amount is three days, but this can be amended depending on the worker’s relationship to the deceased.
For whom Leave can be taken
You may want to establish for whom employees are permitted to take leave. For example, you might allow leave for immediate family members including parents, partners and children. Yet, you may not want to permit leave for friends and extended family, such as an aunt, uncle and grandparents. Make sure to have this clearly stated in your policy.
Paid or Unpaid Leave
You are not obligated to pay employees for this type of leave. However, you may wish to do so. This is your decision as an employer. Make it clear what you are going to include in your policy to avoid any confusion with workers.
Eligibility for Leave
Stating whether all employees will be eligible for this leave is another important issue to consider. Will it only be for full-time workers? Or will part-time workers also be eligible? Create a policy around what suits your business best.
Proof of Leave
In order to ensure that workers are not abusing this policy, it might be a good idea to ask for proof of leave. In this case, it could be a death certificate, obituary or funeral program. Anything that can verify the death will suffice. Although it is a sensitive subject, it is important to ensure that no one takes advantage of his leave.
Make sure to keep track of employees’ time off taken by employees using our special Time Off Manager. Keep up-to-date records and documents in order to oversee the management of this leave using our Document Management feature.
Jacks’ Law (2020)
A new UK Law states that parents who suffer the loss of a child or have a stillbirth from the 24th week of pregnancy will now receive two weeks of parental bereavement leave. This is under new rules that are due to come into effect, known as Jack’s Law. The legislation will see those who suffer the loss of a child receive paid time off for bereavement – something that is not currently an automatic right.
Bereavement Leave in Ireland
In Ireland, the bereavement leave period is different depending on your employee’s relationship with the deceased. Employees may get five working days of bereavement leave in the case of an immediate family member’s death, such as parents, siblings and parents-in-law. In case they experience the loss of their child or spouse, they are entitled to up to 20 working days of paid leave.
Bereavement leave in Ireland states that Irish employees may receive extra days of bereavement leave in the case an immediate relative dies abroad. These days are meant to cover their travel and funeral arrangements.
Under specific circumstances, Irish employees may receive up to three days of special bereavement leave in the case of the death of a distant relative. This may happen in a situation when the employee lives in the same house with the deceased or when the employee has to take care of the funeral arrangements.
What is the Procedure for Taking Bereavement Leave in Ireland
As you probably imagine, bereavement leave isn’t something your employees can receive in advance. For that reason, they will have to complete a bereavement leave application form and submit it to their corresponding managers upon their return at work.
Find out more information about bereavement leave in Ireland by visiting the Irish Hospice Foundation website.