Bereavement leave – this is what you need to know

Our hope is that this advice on bereavement leave will offer some help. Losing someone close to you is challenging and worrying about work at the same time can make it feel impossible.  You will have all sorts of arrangements to make. You will also want to care for those around you who are struggling too. Fortunately, many companies and organisations have a clear policy on what happens should you suffer a loss of a close relative. However, should there be any doubt we have created this guide to offer some support.

What is bereavement leave?

You will likely know bereavement leave as compassionate leave. They are the same things. This leave is the time you are permitted off work in the event of a death of a close relative. This time off is agreed between an employee and employer. The hope is that it would give you time to deal with the initial emergency. You may need to negotiate another time for the funeral.

You may hope that this time will allow you all you need to recover from the loss. However, the truth is that it will only extend for a few days to cover the immediate aftermath. If you need more time, you would likely need to approach your doctor to request sick leave.

The law and bereavement leave

You might think, in an ideal world, that the law will be clear and definite about what is expected of employers. However, the reality of mourning is that the law is better left vague. We may think we want to be permitted a set number of days in law, but the circumstances from one person to the next are so different. Not only do some organisations have set requirements from staff, but some people will be more devastated by death than another. It is too complex to be covered by general law. Therefore, the Employment Rights Act of 1996 says the amount of time off must be considered “reasonable”.

ACAS, an organisation that works to mediate between the needs of businesses and workers, defines reasonable as two days. Remember, it is only the first moments after you receive the news. Research suggests that most companies allow these two days, and some offer more, giving up to five days of unpaid leave.

Why is this important when you can seek sick leave? Well, sick leave can be counted-up and used in a disciplinary procedure if you have too much time off. Your bereavement leave cannot be used in such a situation and should be held separately on your records.

What does the law mean by a close relative?

The law states that this bereavement leave can only be requested for immediate family. This group includes your spouse or partner. It also refers to your children, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and their children. You may also request bereavement leave for someone in your care, which is considered a dependent.

You may have some friends that would cause you much more upset that some immediate family. Unfortunately, the laws on bereavement leave do not cover these people, and you would have to negotiate time with your organisation.

What companies should offer

As stated, clarity is essential at a time when high emotions are in play. Therefore, it would be useful if your company had a set policy on what happens in the event of a bereavement. Yours likely does, and you can request it from your HR manager. The plan should give instructions to your manager on what they can and can’t agree to. As you have read the policy, there should be no sense that this decision is personal. Experts are clear that a period of paid leave after the bereavement of a relative significantly increases the loyalty of staff.

Unfortunately, the general picture across the UK is not consistent. It generally depends on how strong your HR department is and how strong your relationship with your manager.

Assessing if you need bereavement leave

Knowing whether you need time off work is more complicated than you would think. Obviously, when you are overwhelmed with grief, you cannot concentrate on work tasks. However, there may come a time when staying away from work extends the upset you are suffering. Getting back into a regular routine and being distracted from the pain can offer some assistance at this time.

If you do return to work while still struggling a little, you need to be honest with your colleagues and managers. There might come the point when you need to ask to leave or need the support of a fellow worker. Finding a way of sharing your loss could help you work through this period and get back into a greater sense of normality.