Alexandra Stanton, Trainee Solicitor at Napthens looks at the latest bereavement advice from ACAS aimed at helping employers handle these difficult situations in a supportive and compassionate way.
In February 2022, ACAS published some updated bereavement advice aimed at helping employers to understand employee’s legal right to time off and to help employers in handling staff bereavement at work.
Grieving employees must be supported as the death of a loved one will inevitably impact employees at work during both the immediate grieving process and in the long-term. The COVID-19 pandemic has also influenced the new advice as it is recognised that social distancing requirements and adapted funeral arrangements have impacted how people have been able to grieve and the access to the support they require.
Understanding and support in the workplace
The new bereavement advice will help to tackle the issues employees are facing and foster a culture of understanding and support in the workplace. The advice will guide employers to create a relationship of openness with their employees and ensure that they are equipped to deal with these difficult situations in the most supportive ways.
Who has the right to time off?
The new advice clarifies that anyone classed as an ‘employee’ has the right to time off if a ‘dependant’ dies, or their child is stillborn or dies under the age of 18. A dependant could be:
- Their spouse, partner or civil partner
- Their parent
- Their child (if under 18)
- A person who lives in their household (not tenants, lodgers or employees)
- A person who would rely on them for help in the event of an accident, illness or injury, such as an elderly neighbour
- A person who relies on them to make care arrangements
In circumstances where the dependant is not the employee’s child, there is no legal right for paid time off, but some employers may choose to offer pay. The employer’s policy may stipulate this.
The law does also not specify how much leave can be taken in these circumstances. The amount of leave given must be ‘reasonable’ and is intended to allow the employee to deal with unexpected issues and emergencies such as arranging or attending the funeral.
If the dependant is the employee’s child
Employees have a right to 2 weeks off if their child dies under the age of 18 or is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy. This is called ‘parental bereavement leave’.
If a person dies who is not the employee’s dependant
An employee has no legal right to time off in these circumstances. However, ACAS has advised that employers should still be compassionate towards an employee’s individual situation. Employers should be conscious that this group still includes parents, grandparents and other close family members which may have a significant impact on the employee.
Pay during bereavement
There is no legal right to be paid for time off for bereavement, unless an employee is eligible for parental bereavement pay in the circumstances above.
An employer may still choose to offer pay during bereavement and allow the employee to take a period of paid or unpaid leave.
How can you support employees?
As an employer you should tailor your support to each employee’s individual needs. Employees may need support at different stages, for example some employees may need support very soon after a death and some may need it down the line on an anniversary of a death.
You should communicate with employees to ask them what support they need and explain the support that you can offer. In the first few days after a death, it is important to communicate with the employee and check how they are, if they want you to let others know about the death and if they need any immediate support. It is usually not appropriate to talk about returning to work in the first days of a bereavement.
You should keep in touch with the employee and discuss adjustments to help plan their return or if they would like a phased return. But you must be careful not to pressure employees to decide about their return to work before they are ready.
Requests for extra support and time off
ACAS has released detailed advice on this topic covering a broad range of scenarios. If you would like any further guidance, have more specific questions or would like to see the full advice document from ACAS, our highly experienced Employment and HR team is on hand to assist and will be able to explore this with you further – please do not hesitate to contact us for more information.
Time off work for bereavement https://www.acas.org.uk/time-off-for-bereavement.