The conciliation service ACAS has recently published a detailed guide on managing bereavement in the workplace.
The guide may be of particular interest to businesses in developing their own policy given the lack of regulation surrounding this issue.
Whilst the law does allow employees to take unpaid dependant leave in the case of an emergency – such as the bereavement of a dependant – there is generally no defined right to time off and no right to be paid.
Nevertheless, research carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests that the average entitlement given by businesses is five days of paid leave.
The guide firstly focuses on the notification by the employee and how the employer should react to the same. Managers should generally contact the employee to offer their condolences, be sensitive to any requests for time off, discuss what message should be given to colleagues and discuss how the employee should keep in touch.
There are a number of ways in which bereavement can continue to impact on the employee after the first few days following a death:
• Some individuals will simply take longer to adjust and return to work, so a longer period of time away from the business may have to be considered
• Adjustments may have to be made to facilitate a return to work, such as reduced hours or duties for a short time
• An employee’s financial circumstances may be adversely affected, particularly if the deceased was the main earner
• An employee’s personal circumstances may change; for example, the employee may become the primary carer for a child and this could result in a flexible working application
• There may be a period of absence later in the year, or on or around the anniversary of a death. An employer will have to decide whether or not to discount such absence from any formal monitoring
A study released earlier in 2014 by the National Council for Palliative Care found that over half (56%) of employees would consider resigning from their role if their employer did not provide adequate support in the event of a bereavement.
Further, nearly a third of those surveyed felt that they had not been treated compassionately by their employer previously.
It is clear that a number of situations may arise in the case of bereavement.
Employers should take a compassionate and flexible approach to find solutions to any issues, as this support will “demonstrate that the organisation values its employees, help build commitment, reduce sickness absence in the longer term” and assist “in retaining the workforce” as the guidance suggests. It may be prudent to highlight to managers the types of issues which may have to be discussed, to ensure that such a supportive attitude can be displayed to employees.