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Bereavement leave: everything you need to know

Jazmin Lopez

Grief is a complex emotion that expresses itself in a variety of ways. Some people feel it as debilitating sadness. Some feel it as anger. 

But regardless of how you feel grief, the death of a loved one has profound consequences. There is the emotional fallout of the loss, and then there is the practical reality of dealing with a death.

Both sides take time and resources. 

This is where bereavement leave--a type of leave an employee can take when someone close to them dies--comes into play. It can be used for a variety of purposes to handle loss, but having it is critical if you want your employees to process their loss successfully. 

This means that as a business, having a compassionate leave policy is non-negotiable. Here's what you need to know before you put your policy to paper. 

Bereavement leave according to the law

As noted earlier, bereavement leave is a type of leave provided any employee who loses a loved one, typically a close relative. This is granted so that employees have time to mourn and make the appropriate arrangements.

The tricky part is that there is no statutory bereavement leave in the UK, though most employers choose to grant it. 

Rules around bereavement leave

Because there is no set law governing bereavement leave, the current rules are a hodge-podge of various applicable laws.

The most significant is the Employment Rights Act of 1996, which grants employees the right to take time off to deal with an emergency situation.

This employment law defines "emergency situation" as any emergencies involving the death of a dependent, though it does not clarify how much time can be taken off for a dependent. The law simply states that the leave entitlements should be 'reasonable'.

It does not, however, grant any statutory right to be paid for bereavement leave. Many employers still elect to do this out of respect for the grieving, though they are not obligated to do so.

Working parents

In 2020, the U.K. passed Jack's Law for working parents, the first law granting parental bereavement leave in the world. 

Under the new law, working parents who lose a dependent child under the age of 18 will receive two weeks statutory bereavement leave to allow them time to grieve. This can be a block of two weeks or two separate weeks taken across the year following the child's death. 

This allows working bereaved parents to allocate their time off for the moments they need it most. 

The new law makes the UK one of the few countries in the world to offer statutory bereavement leave and the only country in the world to offer two complete weeks. The law will take effect on 6 April 2020. 

Miscarriage

In addition, the new UK law extends to miscarriages and stillbirths. This is vital for couples. 

If your baby is born dead before the 24th week of pregnancy, it is legally considered a miscarriage. If your baby is born dead after the 24th week of pregnancy, it is considered a stillbirth. This is a critical distinction because a miscarriage does not grant you rights to maternity, paternity, or shared parental leave. 

If your baby was stillborn, or if your baby was born alive and later died (even if they were only alive for one second) you are entitled to all of your maternity rights. In this case, you can get up to 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave or parental bereavement pay. 

That said, employers may still offer time off even if you had a miscarriage. This would be part of your ordinary sick leave, not maternity or paternity leave.

Why having bereavement leave is important

While bereavement leave is loosely defined outside of parental leave, it is still vital for employers to offer it. Here are a few reasons why. 

Shows you’re an empathetic employer

For one thing, offering bereavement leave shows that you're an empathetic employer. And 
A 2018 State of Workplace Empathy Study by Businessolver found that 96% of employees surveyed believed it was important for their employers to demonstrate empathy.  
In addition, 80% of employees, HR professionals, and CEOs agreed that an empathetic workplace has a positive impact on business performance, motivating workers and increasing productivity.

The reason is simple. When you feel that your workplace cares for you, you're more likely to care in turn and feel motivated to show that their care and consideration is well-placed. 

Builds stronger relationships and increases loyalty

Considering almost all employees value empathy, it should come as no surprise that an empathetic workplace leads to loyalty. 

In fact, 93% of employees said they're more likely to stay with an empathetic employer.

A bereavement leave policy shows that you care about your employees. More than that--you're offering them support in the moments it matters the most. 

Leads to positive company culture

There’s no doubt an empathetic workplace will impact company culture positively. In the company’s efforts to provide a better work-life balance, bereavement leave should not be disregarded.

Positive workplace cultures have long been shown to be more productive. They're also one of the best ways to attract (and keep) the best talent. 

While Western culture encourages us to grieve quickly, attend a funeral, and quietly and return to work ASAP, the reality is that encouraging needed time off is essential to cultivating a healthy work environment. It's vital to combat presenteeism, which is when employees burn out because they feel they can't take time off.

And when you're dealing with a major life event like the loss of a loved one, that time off is essential to processing the loss and slowly returning to ordinary life.

However, because the law does not protect an employee’s right to bereavement leave, it’s important to have a clear policy in place.

How to implement bereavement leave

With that in mind, it's important to implement your bereavement leave policy strategically. Everyone grieves differently, so your terms and conditions may serve as more of a guideline than a strict rule. 

Here are a few tips to help craft your policy from the ground up.

Define the amount of paid time off

One essential element of your leave policy is to define the amount of paid time off.

In this case, it's important to set a guideline and stay flexible. Remember, not everyone grieves the same way--some people grieve immediately, while others take weeks before they need time off to process their grief.

With that in mind, implement your policy and be prepared to talk to bereaved employees when the situation arises. Make adjustments depending on the relationship between the employee and the passing person.

Define who is to be considered “Family”

On a similar note, it's also important to define who is considered "family" under your bereavement policy and what bereavement leave is granted based on the family member in question. 

Keep in mind that people may have different responsibilities depending on who passed away and a devastating loss to one person may be less devastating to someone else--it depends on the relationship. 

Define who is considered family and consider making adjustments in the case of friendships or pets. Everyone's family is different, and these losses can be just as devastating as losses in the nuclear family. 

Share bereavement leave policy with employees

Once you have your policy, you're ready to share it with your employees. The best way to do this is to write an employee handbook and share it on a company database.

Consider creating a time off policy for bereavement leave that includes the full amount of time off allowance and define which employees are entitled to it. By working with a time-off manager like kiwiHR, the bereavement leave policy will be clear for everyone.

However, keep in mind that by law, an employee has the right to keep their bereavement private from work colleagues. While everyone needs to know your policy, that does not mean that all employees have a right to know when someone is using bereavement leave. 

If you’re using a shared company calendar like kiwiHR, you can set the bereavement leave to be displayed simply as “out of office” under the time off policy settings. By using a GDPR compliant HR software, you will be respecting your employees’ privacy.

Managing bereavement leave

Given the effect a family loss impacts employees, businesses need to consider its effects on employees’ performance, productivity and long-term commitment.

A supportive and empathetic bereavement leave allowance will only benefit both the employer and employee.

Find out how kiwiHR’s time off manager can help you manage employee’s bereavement leave.

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