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of a loved one. Polls have shown an overwhelming majority of people would support a change in the law to force employers to grant employees paid bereavement leave. Businesses groups have been less enthused at the prospect of a legally binding minimum entitlement to compassionate leave, particularly an entitlement that covers all employers regardless of size.


LAW AT WORK Should employees get paid bereavement leave?

bereavement leave, flexible working and a range of other support.

And it’s not a case of ‘all take and no give’. Most people also appear to think that employers themselves could gain from a more compassionate approach to bereavement, with 82% of people saying that providing employees with paid bereavement leave is likely to be beneficial to the employer in the long-term.

In response to the report’s findings, the Dying Matters Coalition announced the launch of a national initiative, called Compassionate Employers, which has been designed to support businesses who want to improve their approach to end of life issues, through training for managers and staff. In matters of life and death, it pays to show your human side but, while there are no hard and fast rules in place, writing policy into your company handbook should be your first step.

It often comes as a shock to many employees to discover that they have no legal entitlement to paid time off when someone, even a very close relative, dies. There is an entitlement to unpaid “time off for dependants”, but this only allows employees time off to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies involving a dependant. This may allow unpaid leave for a few days to organise and attend a funeral, but would not give an employee the appropriate time off otherwise. Any further leave, whether paid or unpaid, is entirely at the discretion of the employer.


Although the vast majority of employers will grant compassionate leave in appropriate cases, this has not dissuaded campaigners from launching a recent campaign seeking an amendment to the law granting all workers the statutory right to paid leave after the death

A glance at the message boards of news organisations covering this issue gives some clues as to the difficulties that would be faced in framing any legal right to time off. There are many comments from individuals who feel strongly that they did not receive support from their employer following a bereavement, with expectations running from one week’s paid entitlement up to four weeks’ leave. Others have suggested that such leave is funded by the Government along similar lines to maternity leave – which would seem rather unlikely in the current climate.

This highlights one of the challenges in legislating in this difficult area. Individuals will take different lengths of time to grieve after the death of a loved one. With the range of family relationships in society, how do you legislate for who would count as a close relative? Parents might be an obvious case, but what if the employee is estranged from his or her parents, would they still qualify for paid leave and would they be expected to provide evidence that they actually attended a funeral? What about a grandparent or aunt – would they qualify? What if the employee had been brought up by that grandparent or aunt, would that make a difference?

The principle of paid compassionate leave should be one that no reasonable employer would quibble with. However, attempting to legislate to require employers to be compassionate is fraught with difficulty (and cost) and should be attempted only where there is a proven need, which is not clear in the present instance.


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