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The HR Forum

Bereavement Leave at Work

I am studying my Level 5 CIPD Diploma in Learning & Development with DPG but really this is a discussion for all of us and more related to HR.

 On 3rd May 2018, I lost my 8 year old niece to cancer. It tore our worlds apart. The business policy on bereavement is that for a relative, you are allowed one day off work. For a closer relation, maybe a few more days. Luckily for me, I had an understanding manager who allowed me a week’s emergency holiday leave and a further week for bereavement leave. But then I work part time (3 days) and so the impact on the business was minimal.

The bereavement policy in my work states employees are entitled to 5 days paid leave for a close relative such as parent, child or spouse and 1 day for a relative.

It made me think. For those of us who work full time, what would the process be. If you lost a mum, a dad or a child, is a week off work enough for us to grieve and come to terms with the loss of our loved ones? Are businesses out of touch with employee needs? Is death still a taboo which we avoid?

Attitudes on my return to work were avoidant. My work ‘friends’ almost avoided the subject of my niece’s death. They kept asking how I am? But they didn’t want to discuss the ‘death’ with me. They didn’t want to see the pictures from the funeral. They changed the subject and discussed other things. As a society, why are we so afraid of discussing death when its probably the only inevitability in life. 

10 years ago, as part of my degree in Sociology, I studied a module called Death & Dying. We investigated why there was such an outpour of emotion when Princess Diana died. Was it unresolved grief? Was it genuine grief for Diana’s death? It was certainly the first time I had experienced such a public display of grief. The question of unresolved grief lingers in my mind. Why is it unresolved and is there a link between this and the time allowed off work to deal with the death of a loved one? 

If people are not given time off to grieve, does this increase the risk of sickness leave on the grounds of anxiety or depression? 

As a Muslim, we have strict guidelines to follow, once a person dies, the burial needs to happen quickly (preferably within 24 hours). There is a washing ritual called the Ghusl, and a 3-day mourning period. Hindus are required to mourn at home for 13 days and Jews for seven days. Do workplaces consider the grieving processes of other religions and cultures? Is this included in our Diversity and Inclusion policies? 

According to Cartwright King Solicitors “The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination because of their religion or belief and so employers must try to accommodate the employee’s religious customs as best they can. Unless the employer can objectively justify their decision to turn down an employee’s request for extended bereavement leave it may amount to indirect religious discrimination under the Equality Act.” 

According to the Cartwright King website “Compassionate leave entitlement can sometimes be a grey area as there is no statutory right to bereavement leave except in limited circumstances. Section 57 (A) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 gives the right for an employee to have “reasonable” time off to deal with an emergency such as a bereavement involving a dependent. The employer does not need to pay the employee for this time off but many employers do offer paid compassionate leave. There were calls in 2013 and 2014 for the introduction of some form of statutory bereavement leave over and above the existing limited statutory rights. However the government stated that it was not feasible to legislate in this area but Acas would produce some guidance. The Acas Guidance, "Managing bereavement in the workplace" is a good practice guide which was published in September 2014 and deals with a number of issues beyond the mere granting of time off. This includes good practice when dealing with bereavement, avoiding discrimination and addressing bullying.”

With complex relationships, we have families that are close-knit and families that are not. How does an employer differentiate between a genuine need for bereavement leave and a non-genuine request for leave? Is it necessary to provide evidence of death in the form of a death certificate? Or is this breaking trust with an employee? 

Lots of questions. But not enough answers. A bit like death itself. 

Please share your experience of taking bereavement leave from work and how you felt on your return to work? 

Does HR need to look at this in more detail and make it more relevant to today’s world? What are your thoughts?

Kindest Regards

Iffat Iqbal

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Replies

  • Hi Iffat

    Thanks for sharing this and I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your niece.

    In my experience, with my previous employer it was very individual as Sarah has referred to below.  Although there was a policy in place ( 2 weeks for immediate family and 1 day for the funeral for other family members) , it was at the Managers discretion because circumstances can be different.

    It's upsetting to hear your colleagues were not supportive.  Fortunately for me I have always worked for organisations where colleagues were very supportive.

    I agree its definitely a policy that needs to be looked at and kept up to date, with flexibility for individual circumstances.

     

    Karen

     

     

    • Thanks Karen for your condolences

      My colleagues were trying to be supportive, and kept asking how i am. The article is trying to touch on the fact that as a society we are very uncomfortable talking about death and that we need to have open discussions about it rather than avoid discussions.

      See you soon

      Iffat

  • Hi Iffat

    Thank you for sharing and I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your niece. 

    This is a subject which means different things for different people, it was interesting to read about the different grieving arrangements for other cultures.

    It is something which is a very individual thing, I have dealt with managers who have lost their child and they have wanted to return to work immediately and with no fuss.  I have many clients ask for how many days they should provide for bereavement and I always say it is contextual and depends on the circumstances.

    The day I lost my Father, I still worked and had some very strange conversations with clients so for me I wanted to continue as normal.

    As Katy says you would hope the common sense would prevail and people treat others with empathy and as a human being.

    Thanks for sharing

    Sarah

    • Thank you for your comment and condolences.

      I understand it when people want to get back to work and continue with things as a way of distracting themselves from the grief. Equally from an emotional and psychological perspective, i personally feel its important to take time out to grieve the loss of a loved one to avoid unresolved grief later in life.

      Its a choice and whatever works is best for you.

      Thanks

      Iffat

  • Firstly I'm sorry for your loss, especially of someone at such a young age, and that you're colleagues are being awkward about it. I hope you have support networks outside of work to help you with your loss.


    I've experienced bereavement three times in the past 5 years while working full-time and each were handled differently. I didn't need to provide a death certificate for any of them. 
    When my Grandpa died I was working for a different organisation than I am now and I was given 2 days leave because I needed to travel to the funeral but otherwise I was expected to be at work. The topic wasn't avoided and my colleagues asked how it went, but we weren't a close team so it wasn't easy to discuss. 
    My grandma died whilst in my current organisation but I was under a different line manager. I was given 1 day's leave as the funeral was local and again otherwise expected to be at work. I believe the topic was more openly discussed but we worked more closely as a team and it wasn't uncomfortable. I think if I needed more time, I could have used sick leave but this option wasn't made available to me. 
    My mum died last year from cancer and leading up to it I was allowed to work flexibly and have days off at short notice for emergency hospitalisations. I was given a lot of support by the team prior to the death and it was openly discussed with my colleagues and line manager. When my mum passed away I was told I could have a week of compassionate leave and then a week of uncertified sick leave, but I was encouraged to go to the doctor and be signed off, which I did. I then came back on a phased return basis according to the doctor and occupational health. I still discuss it with my colleagues and my line manager, so I think it's a cultural thing and what people are comfortable with. 

    Generally compassionate leave from my experience has been left to the discretion of line managers and having conversations with their reportees. For instance I wasn't close to my grandparents so I didn't need any further time off, however someone else who was very close might.
    I also think being signed off by a GP is better than having numerous compassionate leave days, as they can check and judge your health far better than an employer who isn't trained in this. They can also make phased return and flexible working recommendations, especially if the employer could be difficult. However it depends on if you're aware as an employee that you can do this, when my mum had cancer treatment 2 years prior to her death I wasn't told about going to my GP to be signed off and I was under the impression I could only take leave from my annual leave or unpaid leave. In fact under my old line manager I wasn't given any compassionate leave during this period which was distressing, so line manager training and knowledge is very important and HR can/ should help with this. 


    I don't know what this would mean from a religious point of view to be honest, but I would like to think that a reasonable/ common-sense line manager would have a conversation with the employee about the traditions and maybe seek advice and allow for this or justify their reasons. Perhaps HR could provide more information here in leave policies, we certainly don't in my organisation on this topic.

    I think overall it comes down to business culture and how it treats employees. If you're in a team where personal life is accepted as equally important as the business then you as an employee feel safe and more likely to stay in that business.

    • Thank you for your comment and condolences.

      I agree that compassionate/bereavement leave tends to be at the discretion of the manager.

      My colleagues at work havent been awkward, just very 'avoidant'

      I think as a society we need to have more open discussion around death and dying, rather than pretend it doesnt exist.

      Thanks

      Iffat

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