Women Being Comforted

Bereavement Leave – This Is What You Need To Know.

The time around the loss of a loved one is challenging.  Not only do you have to contend with overwhelming feelings of loss, but the practical challenges of arranging the funeral and the estate.  It cannot be expected that you can work at your best at this time. Many employers have clear policies that tell you what leave you can take.  Some employers will offer paid leaves; others will have detailed back to work policies to support you on your return.

Although the policy around bereavement leave can vary from one company to another, some standard rules apply to all businesses.  Here we give you all you need to know about bereavement leave, in the hope this will be one less thing to worry about.

What Is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave and compassionate leave are the same things.  It is time allowed away from the workplace in the event of the death of a close member of your family.  It is the time agreed between the employee and employer, giving time for the individual to deal with the immediate aftermath of the death.  Initially, this might be dealing with the immediate emergency.  However, it may also be another period when you will need to attend the funeral.

It is likely that this bereavement, or compassionate leave, will only cover the beginning of the grieving process.  You may feel that the enormity of grief requires a longer period to recover.  This extended period would likely be covered by sickness.


What Is The Law Behind Bereavement leave?

The law is not clear on how much time you are allowed; there is no set number of days for bereavement entitlement.  According to the Employment Rights Act of 1996, the number of days must be reasonable. What reasonable means is open to negotiation, or an agreement between the parties involved.  This may be perceived as unhelpful, as there is no minimum number of days defined in law.  However, the complexity of families and grief makes it difficult to dictate for all situations.

ACAS, the organisation that works as a mediator between the employer and employee, states that reasonable should be defined as two days.  Based on studies, most companies allow two days to deal with the immediate emergency and to begin making plans.  Some businesses realise that the person will not be working at peak performance, so can offer three to five days of unpaid leave beyond the initial emergency.

Whatever the policy of the business, the bereavement leave should be considered entirely separate from sickness days.  This is significant for the staff records, as it cannot during this period of grief be labelled sick leave.  It is essential to differentiate these because an employer can build a case for dismissal based on persistent absence from work due to illness, even if given a note from the doctor.

What Is Considered Immediate Family For Funeral Leave?

The law only covers those considered immediate family.  Therefore, it includes the spouse, partner, parent, child, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles and their children, or someone for whom the employee is responsible.  This is because the law also references dependents; therefore, can be people we care for as well as close family.

Beyond this group of people, there is no help in law for the setting of parameters in the policies for bereavement held by companies.  The loss of a close friend may be as significant, if not more so, than some defined as close family members.

However, in this situation, it is at the discretion of the company you work for.

The company needs to have a policy that is easy for the employees to understand from the start.  If the deceased is not a dependent or a person from the immediate family, the employee needs clear direction. They need to know what time they can or cannot take without approaching a medic to help certify unfitness for work.

Most companies have human resource managers who are aware of the importance of writing a bereavement and compassionate leave policy.  Experts in the field feel that writing a period of paid leave after a death has a significant impact on employee loyalty and levels of commitment.  A policy is also essential for managers who need support when making decisions in such difficult times.  However, the picture across the UK represents a considerable lottery in terms of how you are treated in the event of a death.

How Do You Know If You Need To Take Bereavement Leave?

It is more complicated than you would imagine, knowing if you need bereavement leave or not.  The question about whether you should work while you are grieving is cluttered with complexity.  Research into bereavement leave and its impact are difficult because it is typically listed as stress in staff records.  This hides the extent of the problem.  Mental Health charities have been campaigning for many years for the government to dictate five days paid leave per year as appropriate guidance for employers.

However, as much as it is crucial to have time to deal with loss, it is also good for mental health if you get back to a regular routine.  Being away from your routine can be unsettling and lead to you living within the pain.  Work may offer you some distraction from the emotions, as well as being given opportunities to forget.  When at home, people will come and visit and offer condolences, all of which will keep the loss to the forefront of your mind.

If you do return to work, you need to mindful of your usefulness and put safety nets in place should you need to escape.  For instance, you cannot assume your work colleagues are aware that you have experienced loss.  Therefore, they may not understand your distraction or withdrawal.  It would be a good idea to find a way to make those in your workplace aware of what has happened.  You can do this via an email, or through social media, or by asking a manager or human resources colleague to let people know.

If people are aware of your grief, then you will be able to retreat and take further time away from work without fear of judgement.  If you realise you need to negotiate more time off for bereavement leave, your manager will find it easier to accommodate you because the team will better understand.

You may need more bereavement leave if you become forgetful, overly apathetic, and you are finding it difficult to concentrate.  You may also feel overwhelmed, exhausted, irritable or impatient and that you are making a higher number of errors than usual – or can be expected.  If you feel yourself thinking that you ought to leave your job – stop – it is essential to avoid making major life choices.  You may just need to take some time away from the workplace to recover.

How Do You Take Bereavement Leave?

First, you would hope that your company has a bereavement policy that you can refer to, which will tell you who to inform and how.  It would be helpful if there were an out-of-hours number that could be called in the event of an emergency.

There is obviously nothing more awkward than telling your manager that someone has died.  Hopefully, there will be someone close to you who can make the call.  However, if you do have to make the call prepare a list of details on a piece of paper.  Write down who has died, what you know about the details and when you hope to return to work – so you do not become overwhelmed and forget essential information.

Your employer may at some point ask for proof of the death.  However, the hope is in this first instance that your call will be treated with care and sensitivity.  Be prepared for the possibility that they may request a death notice at some point.

If you return to work and then realise that you are not coping, you need to open a dialogue with your manager as soon as possible.  It may be that they will find a way to use your allocated leave to give you some extra time to recover.  They may suggest you see a doctor for a certificate that says you are unfit to work.  Listen to the suggestion you go to the doctor, as it may be that you need grief counselling.

What Family Members Enable You To Qualify For Bereavement Leave?

The law is clear in its definition of family members.  It obviously includes parents, grandparents, children, brothers and sisters.  However, it also covers aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.  It does not cover first cousins, though this might be open to discussion with employers if this is someone who you feel is close to you.

It does not, no matter how much you believe them to be part of the family, cover family pets.  People are largely understanding of the upset caused by the death of a pet.  However, your managers may struggle to justify giving you time off work to deal with your grief.


It is worth reminding you that the reason the law is so vague as no two situations or individuals is the same.  It is challenging to compose a policy that applies to everyone when there is no hard and fast rule as to what may happen.  It is vital that employers have clear bereavement policies and that staff are aware of this policy.  At a time of considerable uncertainty, which comes in the aftermath of loss, it is better to fall back on a set of guidelines than makeup policy ad-hoc.

Also, remember, sometimes getting back to the regular routines of work could actually help.  You will be among colleagues rather than potentially isolated and lonely at home.  If you feel you can, getting back to work might be your best option. This guide has been written by Ashes Memorial Jewellery.

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