Losing a loved one is such an emotionally taxing experience already. Hardly the last thing anyone wants to think about when they’re in mourning is work.
Bereavement leave and compassionate leave exist for this purpose: so that employees may have the time and space they need to properly grieve the loss of their loved ones or cope with a family emergency, without having to add financial stress on top of it.
Understanding the complexities and nuances of bereavement leave is essential for small business owners who want to build a great place to work.
If you’re a founder, a CEO, or the stand-alone HR professional of a small company, then it won’t do to be unprepared. If a team member finds themselves in a tragic situation and has to take compassionate leave, you’ll want to know what’s expected of you, and how to best take care of your team members.
As an HR advisor, I’ve assisted hundreds of businesses in creating unique HR policies that deal with these sorts of situations. To that end, I’ve drawn on my experience helping small businesses navigate these sensitive situations with tact, empathy and grace.
In this guide, I’ll lay out what you need to know about bereavement leave and compassionate leave, define what they are, and offer guidance on how to create a bereavement policy that works out for everyone.
What is bereavement leave?
Knowing how to deal with situations where your team member is experiencing a tragic loss or in mourning not only helps you stay compliant with UK employment law, but it demonstrates that you care about your employees.
Broadly speaking, bereavement leave is understood alongside three different leave categories:
- Bereavement leave: This is the specific type of employee leave given to employees who are experiencing the loss of a close family member or loved one. Their purpose is to give the employee time to grieve, make funeral arrangements, and see to the affairs of the dearly departed.
- Compassionate leave: This type of leave is similar to bereavement leave, although it’s broader in scope. Compassionate leave can be granted if a family member is seriously ill or dealing with a life-threatening condition. This allows the employee time they need to be with their family and manage any important matters that arise.
- Grievance leave: This is a more specific type of leave for employees attending funerals or memorial services. It’s typically shorter in duration than bereavement or compassionate leave.
Legal requirements for bereavement leave in the UK
There are specific laws around bereavement leave in the United Kingdom that employers must adhere to when creating and implementing their bereavement leave policies.
Parental bereavement leave
In the UK, parents who lose a child under the age of 18 or experience a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy are legally entitled to take time off work.
The parent can take parental leave in the 56 weeks after their child’s death. If more than one child dies, the employee is entitled to 2 weeks of statutory parental bereavement for each child.
How long is bereavement leave?
How long the bereavement leave lasts can vary depending on the employer and the set of circumstances, which are largely determined by the employer’s policy. Some companies offer just a few days, while others may offer unpaid leave or a more extended period of leave.
How to create a compassionate leave policy
Creating a compassionate or bereavement leave policy is more than just checking some bureaucratic boxes. These are human lives you’re dealing with here.
Having a well-thought-through bereavement policy shows your team members that you care about their wellbeing and that you’re there to support them through challenging times.
I made this step-by-step guide to help you create a bereavement policy that’s ethical and compassionate, legally compliant and aligned with your values as a business.
Step 1: Consult with HR advisors
Consult with professional legal counsel or qualified HR advisors before you even put pen to paper and draft your policy. Make sure that it aligns with UK employment laws concerning bereavement leave.
If you feel it’s outside your scope of expertise, I or another HR advisor at Charlie will be happy to assist you with this. That way, you can avoid any legal pitfalls down the line.
Step 2: Involve team members
To create a well-made bereavement policy, you’ll need to get input from the various departments at your company. This includes getting insight from your HR team if you have one.
That way, your policy will fit the needs of everyone on your team.
I or another CharlieHR advisor can help facilitate these discussions and make sure everyone on your team gets a seat at the table.
Step 3: Draft the policy
Now it’s time to put pen to parchment. Get the information you need together, and start drafting your policy.
Be sure to include:
- Eligibility criteria
- Duration of leave
- The process of applying for bereavement leave
With CharlieHR’s time-off HR software, you can keep track of who gets allotted leave and give everyone visibility on who is working, and who is off.
Step 4: Review and revise
Review your new policy thoroughly and make any necessary adjustments before finalising. It might be good to give it another check through your legal counsel.
I do compliance audits at Charlie regularly, and so do the other HR advisors on our team. I’m happy to help you with yours and make sure you stay on the right side of the law.
Follow these steps under the guidance of a dedicated advisor at CharlieHR, and you’ll have a caring and compassionate bereavement leave policy that supports and protects your employees, while also protecting your business.
Common questions about bereavement leave
I often have to field questions about the specifics of statutory compassionate leave. Here are some of the ones I hear most often, with my thoughts:
Do you get paid for compassionate leave?
The amount you compensate your employees for bereavement leave entitlement varies from company to company. You can offer paid or unpaid leave according to your company’s policy and the team member’s duration of service.
How long is compassionate leave?
The duration of compassionate leave often depends on the situation. Some companies offer a few days to attend a funeral, and others may provide a more prolonged period for emotional recovery or settling their loved one’s affairs.
What are some compassionate leave examples?
Bereavement leave covers a range of examples, including:
- Attending a funeral or memorial service
- Taking care of estate matters and legal obligations
- Emotional recovery time to cope with the loss
How to handle bereavement leave in practice
So much for the official ins and outs of your bereavement policy, but what does balancing practicality and sensitivity in these matters translate to the real world?
Everyone copes with grief differently. Some show no outward signs of distress - though they may be deep in inner, emotional turmoil - or they may be fine. Others may be inconsolable and distraught to the point of non-functioning.
Here are some scenarios I’ve seen when dealing with bereavement leave, and some suggestions on how to navigate them:
1. Sensitivity and confidentiality
When an employee is going through a hard time, approach the situation with care and discretion. Respect their privacy and their wishes, regarding how much they want the other team members to know about what’s going on.
2. Immediate acknowledgment
Act promptly as soon as you’re informed about the situation. Even a brief message to your employees expressing your condolences and letting them know you’re there to support them is better than nothing.
3. Flexible return-to-work options
Offering flexible work arrangements can make a world of difference for a grieving employee who isn’t functioning at their best.
Managing and tracking bereavement requests is a complex task, but automating it with CharlieHR’s time-off feature makes a difficult situation much, much easier. It can also be an asset when planning and managing the employee’s return to work.
Support your grieving employees through leave, and beyond
Supporting your employees goes beyond just granting time off. You can also consider offering additional resources like Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) or mental health support to better help your employee cope.
A well-defined policy and a supportive work environment make the world of difference in helping your employees navigate traumatic events or life upheaval.
Start a free trial of Charlie today, and make a comprehensive bereavement policy solution that gives your employees what they need.