Bereavement in the workplace
In September, the UK mourned the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Staff are likely to have been affected by the Queen’s death in different ways.
The loss of a loved one, such as a family member, is likely to have an even more profound effect on an individual’s life as well as their ability to work in the aftermath. Employers should be sensitive to the feelings of a member of staff who has suffered a bereavement and should also be aware of the rights that may available to them at such a time.
Employers should frequently review their handbooks to ensure they are up to date and may take this opportunity to do so to ensure they have policies dealing with bereavement that are fit for purpose.
The rights that a bereaved employee may be entitled to are summarised below. Employers should also take time to read the guidance released by Acas earlier this year which aims to help employers deal with bereavement in the workplace.
Time off work during a bereavement
Employees have the statutory right to take a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with situations affecting their dependants, including the death of a dependant. The right is to time off which is “necessary” in the circumstances. A dependant could be an employee’s spouse or civil partner, child, parent or someone who lives in the same household as the employee.
Where the bereavement relates to the death of an employee’s child (which the law in this area defines as a person under the age of 18 and including a child who is stillborn after 24 weeks), that employee also has the right to take up to two weeks’ statutory “parental bereavement leave”. This right applies to biological parents, parents under a surrogacy agreement and adoptive parents. It also applies to employees who have been looking after the child for at least 4 weeks before the child’s death and the partners of all of these types of parent.
In addition, where a child is lost after 24 weeks of pregnancy, the employee will keep their entitlements to maternity or paternity leave so the mother would still be able to take up to 52 weeks off and the father, partner of the birth mother or adopter would be able to take 2 weeks paternity leave. Shared parental leave may also still be available.
There is no statutory right to time off in the event of a death of someone who is not a dependant. Employers may wish to offer further leave to cover these circumstances. Otherwise, employees may take annual leave or sick leave if they are unwell after a bereavement.
Right to pay
There is no right to be paid for time off for dependants. Employers may choose to offer paid time off during a bereavement and in these cases this would usually be set out in a written policy.
Employees may be entitled to be paid a statutory rate for parental bereavement leave. They may also be entitled to statutory maternity, paternity or shared parental pay.
Employers should consider including a policy or policies outlining the types of leave available to an employee in the event of a bereavement. This gives the employee a clear indication of the types of leave and pay available to them during such a difficult time.
Parental bereavement leave was introduced in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic and employers may not have had the opportunity to add such a policy to their handbook. Employers should therefore take this opportunity to update their handbooks to include a policy on parental bereavement leave and check generally that their handbook is up to date.