When you lose a loved one, you’ll need time to grieve. This is why all UK employees are entitled to a certain amount of time off work when they lose someone close to them. This is known as bereavement leave.
But how much time are you entitled to, and what if you don’t feel up to going back to work so soon? Here, you’ll find out about your rights in relation to bereavement leave, as well as how to have these important conversations with your employer.
What is bereavement leave?
Bereavement leave is time off work following the death of a loved one. You may also know it as compassionate leave. It is arranged with your employer, and the terms and procedures for bereavement leave should be outlined in company policy.
This time off is very important for people who’ve recently lost a loved one. It gives you the space to work through your emotions and recover from the shock. Bereavement leave also gives you time to deal with the administration that comes with the death of a family member, as well as other arrangements such as organising the funeral and wake. It just wouldn’t be possible to manage all of this if you had to juggle work at the same time.
Your employer is not legally obliged to pay you for time off for bereavement, but they do have to grant you some time off in these circumstances. According to the Employment Rights Act 1996, you are entitled to ‘time off for dependants’. This refers to an emergency situation involving a close family member, spouse or child, which naturally extends to bereavement.
What family members qualify for bereavement leave?
If a close family member passes away, your employer will usually grant bereavement leave without question. ‘Close’ in this instance means a spouse or partner, sibling, aunt or uncle, grandparent or a niece of nephew. It can also refer to a child or someone you have a responsibility to care for. These people can be considered as ‘dependants’ according to the Employment Rights Act 1996.
It can become a little more difficult to ask for compassionate leave in other circumstances. Some employers will be very understanding if you lose a close friend, colleague or someone not in your immediate family. Others may be stricter, and it can lead to difficult conversations. This is exacerbated by the fact that there is no hard and fast rule about bereavement leave in employment law. Again, it is all about open, transparent communication and your employer using his or her discretion.
How long can I have off for bereavement?
There are no official rules stating how long employees are entitled to have for bereavement. It’s often up to the individual employer, but on average around 2-5 days is the norm. There’s no statutory requirement for your employer to pay you for time off, but many company policies do offer pay for a certain amount of bereavement leave.
Unless you’ve faced bereavement before, it’s normal not to have any idea how much time off you’ll need. Your employer may agree to around 5 working days, for example, then they may ask you to check in.
A good employer should be open to conversation and never pressure you into returning before you’re ready. This would be counterproductive, as you may not be in a fit state to do your job properly. It’s also important for employers to invest in the wellbeing of their staff members. Happy, healthy employees are more productive, loyal and efficient, so it makes sense to be more generous with things like bereavement leave.
But on your side, you should remember that your employer has plans to make and a business to run. They will need you to return to work as soon as you feel able to. You should aim to touch base regularly, or let your boss know when you need some space. Never just go quiet if you can help it - as it wouldn’t be fair to your employer. After all, a sympathetic, sensitive manager is wonderful to have. Even when facing a very difficult situation, you absolutely wouldn’t want to take advantage of their kindness.
Managing difficult conversations with your employer
As there aren’t any clear rules or laws for employers on bereavement, it can lead to difficult or uncomfortable situations. Most employers are sensitive and understanding, so you’ll be given time to grieve and make funeral arrangements.
You’ll usually follow the company process for requesting compassionate leave, but the most important step is to let your employer know. This can be very difficult, as your employer will perhaps be one of the first people you break the sad news to. But it’s important, as getting this out of the way can give you some breathing space. The last thing you need at this difficult time is to be worrying about work, or have calls and messages from your boss asking where you are.
If your employer leaves your request for leave open-ended, you may be unsure as to how long you can take off work. In these situations, communication is key. Your employer will appreciate it if you stay in touch, just to let them know how you’re doing. Remember that a good boss will care about your wellbeing and won’t want to pressure you into returning when you’re not ready.
But what if you’re not ready to return to work once your leave period is up? Provided you stay in touch regularly and your requests for leave are reasonable, your employer should grant you extra time. You should be able to come to an arrangement that works for everyone.
However, if you face difficulties or communication has broken down, you can seek help or raise a grievance with your company’s HR team. You can also get assistance or advice from organisations such as The Citizens Advice Bureau, ACAS, a solicitor or your union representative. In most cases, this won’t be necessary, but it’s good to know you have somewhere to turn if you and your employer can’t agree.
Could a funeral plan help?
With a funeral and possibly a wake to be organised, not to mention all of the additional administrative processes that must be followed after a death in the family, bereavement leave may not always feel long enough to allow you to deal with difficult emotions and manage your grief.
However, having a prepaid funeral plan could help. Plans put in place by the deceased prior to their death could ease the physical, mental and financial burdens placed on grieving family members, instead gifting them with more time to grieve