John Palmer: What can employers do to ensure bereavement leave policies are effective?

John Palmer

There is a lot to consider when making bereavement leave policies work for both employees and employers. Employees have the right to a reasonable amount of unpaid leave to deal with bereavement, while organisations have a duty of care to their bereaved staff members.

Many employers find that a bereavement leave policy, which often includes an amount of paid leave, can help employees and their managers work successfully together during one of the most challenging times an individual is likely to experience.

Grief affects different people in different ways at different times. One employee may need some time right away to help with the shock, another might need freedom to make funeral arrangements, while others may need to handle their grief over a longer period.

Employers should make sure their bereavement leave policy gives employees the flexibility to deal with their grief in a way that will help them the most.

Organisations, however, are entitled to know when employees are taking leave. Staff will, therefore, need to tell their employer as soon as they are reasonably able to. Many employees will not be able to share everything their employer wants to know at once, though, so organisations should focus on supporting them and making practical contact arrangements.

Bereavement leave policies should encourage managers to show employees they are supported, reduce any anxiety about returning to work, offer condolences and make it clear that they are not expected to work on the day the death has taken place. It is also important to make it clear that managers should ask staff how they would like to be contacted.

As employers running a business, the bereavement policy should, therefore, be something the organisation can handle.

Employers need to make bereavement leave manageable, help employees return successfully and productively, and ensure that managers and employees know how to use the policies in place. Plus, they should also remember to monitor, review and update on a regular basis.

John Palmer is senior guidance adviser at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas)

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