Should your company give paid bereavement leave?

Friday, 05 Mar 2021

Good employers understand that staff perform best when they’re well looked after. Most of the time this means offering a supportive work environment and opportunities for progression, but sometimes personal circumstances can affect people’s ability to do their job.

One of the most difficult situations to deal with is when an employee experiences a bereavement. Legally, you don’t have to offer them paid time off unless they’ve suffered the loss of a young child. However, this doesn’t sit easy with many company bosses.

To protect their team when they’re at their most vulnerable, many organisations have introduced paid bereavement leave policies. But while this takes a huge weight off the staff member’s mind, the impact needs to be managed effectively. Otherwise, unexpected absences can cause commercial problems – or leave employees returning to an overwhelming task list.

Does statutory bereavement leave give employees enough support?

Most people do a good job of leaving their problems at the door when they come to work, but there are times when personal lives supersede people’s jobs. One of these difficult circumstances is the death of a loved one – something that’s become all too frequent over the past 12 months with the coronavirus pandemic.

But there’s no statutory requirement that employers offer people paid time off to grieve their loss, unless the bereavement is a child under 18 years old. And many professionals feel that this simply isn’t good enough.

Recently, a 36-year-old widow who’d lost her husband to cancer added her voice to a growing coalition of workers, businesses and MPs who want to introduce a minimum of two week’s paid bereavement leave for ANY close loss.

While this motion is still being debated, it’s up to individual businesses how much compassionate leave to offer employees, and whether they are paid for this time. Should you wait for the law to change? Or is it time you offered a better bereavement leave policy for your most valued people?

Should your business offer more than the minimum?

Regardless of what’s written into their employment contract, it’s very unlikely that staff will show up to work immediately after suffering a loss. Even if they do, they’re unlikely to be in the right state of mind to do their job effectively. This leaves many employees in the unenviable position of using up annual leave or taking unpaid absence while they grieve – adding financial worry to the emotional strain they are already under.

Extending your paid bereavement leave policy to include partners and all immediate family members offers team members the space they need to grieve in private, and to deal with legal and financial matters relating to their loss. By giving them time to get back on their feet, you’re ensuring they can return to work in the right frame of mind, ready to contribute.

Showing compassion and taking care of people will also underline that your company is a good place to work. And when the bereaved employee puts their life back together, they are likely to reward you with their loyalty – rather than remembering you as the boss who didn’t support them during the darkest period of their lives.

How do you mitigate the impact of compassionate leave?

But while offering paid time off to grieve feels like ‘the right thing to do’ for most employers, there’s a practical side to consider as well. If someone takes an unexpected leave of absence and you don’t know when they’ll be back, there’s work to be covered.

Extending your bereavement leave policy can create real logistical headaches for managers and HR staff; you don’t want one person’s absence to overburden colleagues, or for client/customer standards to slip. This means their workload has to be quickly distributed across the team.

An online holiday planner comes into its own in this scenario, as it allows your senior personnel to see exactly who’s available. This way, you can allocate responsibilities across the company, covering the bereaved team member’s critical tasks among close colleagues.

It’s even more effective if that holiday planner integrates other types of leave as well, such as illness, time off in lieu (TOIL) and external meetings. This allows you to base decisions on a complete overview – rather than just factoring-in who has booked holiday. Plus, you can record on the system that a team member is on compassionate leave, to stop colleagues unwittingly contacting them with work-related questions.

Finding the right structure to improve paid bereavement leave

Sometimes as a company leader, you need to assess what is legally required against what feels morally right – and many employers feel their bereavement leave policy should offer more than the bare minimum. Giving people time off to grieve at a heart-breaking, difficult time offers them financial and emotional peace of mind, so they can focus on the healing process.

And by using leave planning software to cover your bereaved employee’s workload, you can keep day-to-day operations running smoothly – so business projects progress, and your staff member comes back to find everything under control.

WhosOff is an online holiday calendar that integrates annual leave planning, time off in lieu, meetings, appointments and compassionate leave in one central system.

Book your free WhosOff trial to see how our online portal and mobile app can support your business.

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Photos by Kat Jayne and Hakan Erenler of

By Mark Tomkinson

Title: Should your company give paid bereavement leave?
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