The UK is currently in a period of national mourning following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 8 September. It is due to come to an end on 19 September, when the Queen is laid to rest at a state funeral.
The Queen’s death has opened up conversations about bereavement and grief in the workplace, and now is an appropriate time for employers to ensure that they are fully comfortable with how bereavement can affect their employees and what policies are in place to support them.
From a legal point of view, there is no statutory right to ‘bereavement’ or ‘compassionate’ leave, but there are instances where employees are entitled to time off following a death:
Time off for dependants
Employees are entitled to ‘reasonable’ time off work ‘as a consequence of’ the death of a dependant. This includes:
- Spouse/civil partner
- Child of the employee
- Parent of the employee
- A person who lives in the same household as the employee (who is not a tenant/lodger/boarder or employee)
This right is designed to give the employee time to deal with the ‘logistical’ issues that arise following a death, such as making arrangements for a funeral and dealing with probate. This leave is not paid.
As there is no guidance as to what amount of time is ‘reasonable’, this will be for the employer and employee to discuss and agree on, but employers should note that any potential inconvenience/disruption to their business is not a factor that should be taken into account.
Parental bereavement leave
Parents have the right to take either one or two weeks off work (which can be taken consecutively or separately) following the death of a child under 18, or a stillbirth after 24 weeks. There is no qualifying service required and the leave may be taken at any point in the 56 weeks following the child’s death. An employer cannot refuse a request to take parental bereavement leave.
This right is available to:
- legal parents (including adoptive parents),
- a prospective adopter with whom the child had been placed,
- an intended parent under surrogacy arrangements,
- a parent ‘in fact’ (who looked after the child in their home for the last four weeks but was not a paid carer) and
- the natural parent of an adopted child if there is a court order for the child to have contact with the natural parent.
The right also covers the partner of the above.
If the bereaved parent has at least 26 weeks’ service at the date of death and earns at least the lower earnings limit for class 1 NICs, they will also be entitled to Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay.
Support should be available to employees at all stages of the grieving process.
- On first becoming aware an employee has suffered a bereavement, employers should offer condolences, ensure the employee knows that they do not have to work if they do not wish to, and offer ways to keep in touch/cover work while they are out.
- When discussing time off with employees, employers should be aware of their organisation’s policy (such as offering paid time off or using a combination of holiday/sick/unpaid leave) and what has been offered on previous occasions to other employees (to make sure everyone is treated fairly and avoid discrimination).
- To help the employee return to work, it is useful to have an open discussion about how the employee is coping, whether they need access to external support or any adjustments to their duties. This may be immediately after they return, or around events such as anniversaries and birthdays.
If you or your business needs advice on any aspect of bereavement in the workplace, our Employment team is more than happy to assist.