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How to manage bereavement in the workplace

You never know when your staff might need time off to manage a personal situation. Plan ahead now to make sure you can effectively and sensitively manage a bereavement in the workplace.

You will learn

  • How to set up a bereavement policy in your work space
  • What time off for bereavement your employees are entitled to
  • How to bring your employee back to work

From time to time, you will have to handle a bereavement in the workplace. If this happens, your first priority is to make sure you offer whatever support your business is able to provide, whether that be paying for grief counselling or allowing them paid leave. Manage their expectations, they might still want to come in to work to help meet deadlines, but you need to make sure they get the space and freedom from their normal responsibilities to grieve and come to terms with their bereavement.

Grief impacts on almost every part of a person’s life; it can effect sleep, thoughts, concentration, and in some cases can have a severe impact on their mental health, so you need to make sure your employee has the time off and accesses the support they need to prevent a long term illness. It is also important to be aware of what your employee is legally entitled to following the death of a loved one. This article will talk you through setting up a bereavement policy in your business, and give you some tips for managing the bereavement period and beyond.

Bereavement policy

What your bereavement policy is depends entirely on you, and how you decide you’re going to handle the situation. Every employee bereavement will be different, as people process grief in different ways: some will need to take extended time off, while others might find comfort in a work routine.

The most important factor to include in your bereavement policy is to open a dialogue between you and your employee, so that you are able to adapt your approach to their needs. Each situation is unique, but your policy should consider:

- How your employee wants to be communicated with – find out whether phone or email is best for them and if there are any hours where they wish not to be contacted
- What information they are happy to have shared with their colleagues – this is sensitive information and is protected under data security law, so make sure you only communicate the facts
- Whether or not they want to hear from their colleagues while they are away
- Your stance if the death is in the media – in some cases, the media may approach your staff for comment, what details would you want shared in this situation?
- Cultural diversity – this may mean employees mourn in different ways to uphold religious or cultural expectations and rituals
- Case-by-case response – you will have to respond to each bereavement as it appears to ensure your employees get the support they need, as different members of staff will require different levels of support from you

In their emotional state, your employee may not be able to provide clear answers during your initial conversation with them. Make sure you do not let them make any serious decisions at this stage, and be aware that you might need to follow up with an email or telephone call once they have had a little more time to process.

Time off for bereavement

Your employee is going to have more pressing things to think about following a personal loss than what is happening at work. Under the Employment Rights Act of 1996, you have to give your employee “reasonable” time off for bereavement or to deal with any emergency involving a dependent, whether that be a: spouse, child, parent, grandchild, or any other person they have legal responsibility for. How much time they will need to take off is judged on a case-by-case basis as there is no fixed period attributed to “reasonable” leave. Clear communication is important, as you do not want to add to their stress by frequently contacting them about leave. Work with them to discuss reasonable time scales and be open to readjusting them if necessary.

Employee health following a bereavement

A bereavement can have a serious impact on both mental and physical wellbeing, and your employee may suffer with mental health issues as a result of losing a loved one. You will need to consider what support you can offer them if this happens. Look at what steps you can take to both help care for your employee’s health, and to keep them from having to be away from work with a long term illness.

You might want to look in to providing counselling for your staff members following a bereavement. Offering your staff formal counselling will show them that they are valued as more than just an employee in your business, and will provide useful coping techniques to aid their return to health. It is unlikely that they will ever reach a point where they do not miss their loved one, but counselling can help them reach a point where they can start to function normally and manage their grief in a healthy way. Research what organisations in your local area can provide grief counselling so that you will be able to refer your employees to them should the need arise.

For more guidance on managing sickness in the workplace, check out this article.

Compassionate pay

Your employee might not consider it initially, but once the period of shock has lessened, they might start to panic about how their absence will impact on their pay, especially if they are responsible for covering funeral costs. Legally, you do not have to give your employee compassionate pay, you only have to allow them time off and retain their job while they are away. However, many employers include in their contracts details of compassionate pay for their staff.

How much you choose to give is entirely up to you, but it is important that you are consistent will all members of staff. Once your employee has had some time to comprehend their loss, let them know what payment they can expect from you financially and for how long this will be the case.

If your employee does suffer from depression or another mental health illness as a result of their loss and has to take additional time off for sickness, you will need to pay them the national minimum wage for sickness. They will be entitled to £89.35 per week in Statutory Sick Pay for up to 28 weeks while they recover.

You can find out more about what you legally have to pay your staff here.

Returning to work

It is important that your employee feels supported when returning to work. As part of your bereavement policy, you should outline the process you want to take for welcoming your employee back to work. Discuss with your employee how they want to handle the transition back to work and regularly review their progress. Decide together if there needs to be a change in their responsibilities during their bereavement period, or whether they need to alter their normal working hours.


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Written by:

Beth Ellin

How's Business content writer

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