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?