What is the legal position?
The first place to look is the Employment contract. This will often contain a clause on 'compassionate leave' which sets out any employee entitlements in this regard - including how much time can be taken off work and if this will be paid. Alternatively, a Bereavement leave policy may set out a business' approach toward bereavement leave.
Under the law, employees are legally entitled to 'reasonable' time off work to deal with emergencies, including bereavement involving a dependant (eg a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or someone who depends on the employee for care). What is considered a 'reasonable' time off is not defined - and will therefore depend on the specific circumstances. There is no legal requirement for an employer to pay an employee for time taken off work due to a bereavement.
Furthermore, employees who experience mental health difficulties following the death of a loved one may - in certain cases - be considered disabled for purposes of the Equality Act 2010. In such a case, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments.
Parental bereavement leave
Employers should note that qualifying parents who have lost a child, have a legal right to take parental bereavement leave. Parents who have lost a child under 18 (or where a child was stillborn after 24 weeks’ pregnancy), on or after 6 April 2020, are entitled to take up to two weeks off to allow them time to grieve. Parental bereavement leave can be paid or unpaid depending on how long the employer has worked for the employee. For more information, read Parental bereavement leave.
What is considered good practice?
ACAS sets out good practice guidance for employers in relation to managing bereavement in the workplace. Some of the key points are as follows:
bereavement policy - employers should have a clearly set out way of handling bereavement. This should either be set out in a compassionate leave clause in the employment contract or a separate Bereavement leave policy stating rights and obligations in different scenarios
first steps - employers should offer their condolences and ensure the bereaved employee knows they are not required to work on the day of their bereavement. A dialogue should then begin (usually with some delay) regarding how much time the employee would like to take off work, and if any adjustments need to be made (eg allowing them to work part-time for a while)
return to work - employers should take into account that there may be a certain period of adjustment when an employee returns to work following a bereavement. Regular reviews can help both parties to discuss the situation and find out if any strategies need to be adopted. Employers should consider taking a flexible approach where appropriate
discrimination - employers should consider any religious reasons relating to certain types of bereavement (eg if more days off are required due to religious practice). However, care must be taken not to discriminate on this basis (ie they must not offer more days off to a religious employee compared to a non-religious employee or an employee of a different religion)
How should bereavement be treated by employers in different scenarios?
Children - employers should take into account the family situation (eg a single mother with other children may need to take extra time off).
Colleague - if an employee dies, this will generally affect the larger workforce, and the employer should consider how to deal with this. Effectively and sensitively communicating the news to other employees is crucial.
For further information, read the ACAS guide on bereavements.