Bereavement leave and pay

When a family member or friend of an employee dies, they will often want to take some time off work, at least to attend the funeral. But what are the obligations of an employer in this situation?

The first place to look is the Contract of employment. 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.

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 else 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.

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 either have a clause in the employment contract which deals with compassionate leave, or have a separate bereavement policy which clearly states 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), but they must not 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).

  • 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 have an effect on 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 to managing bereavement in the workplace.