The Long Goodbye

Life and death are inextricably entwined. As we get older it is inevitable that we will all suffer bereavement following the death of a loved one. Unfortunately we often don’t know how to react or what to say when we hear of someone’s death. People will deal with grief differently. Some need time off to be alone, or with their family, while others like to carry on and keep busy. If one of your employees suffers bereavement, it’s important that you are sensitive and treat him or her with compassion. Offer support to employees, both emotional and practical.

ACAS has recently released a good practice guide to help employers understand the best way to do this. The Employment Rights Act 1996 gives employees a ‘day one’ right to reasonable time off work to deal with emergencies involving a dependant. What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances; CIPD research indicates most employees are given five days paid leave to deal with emergencies. With regards to bereavement, the law entitles employees to ‘reasonable unpaid time off to arrange and attend a funeral’, but there is no right to time off to grieve.

After receiving notification of the death, offer condolences to the employee and ensure he knows that he is not expected to attend work that day. Reassure him that his work will be taken care of. You should ask how the employee would like to stay in touch but understand that he may not wish to speak to anyone in the first few days following the death, especially when the death is of an immediate family member. Ask the employee how much information he would like to be shared with colleagues and whether the employee wishes to be contacted by fellow colleagues or not. An employee may find it difficult to provide you with information you need following the death. A follow up call may be needed to clarify.

We live in a very diverse country so be conscious of the impact this may have on the employee, for example to fulfil religious or cultural expectations. Be open to reviewing the situation with the employee, maintain regular contact while being careful not to pressurise him into making decisions during a difficult time.

Some employees may be able to return to work within a short amount of time follow the death. Others may need more support to enable them to return to work or support following their return. Consider referral for bereavement counselling and make sure the employee understands who they should speak to if they feel they need more support.

As a result of bereavement some employees may suffer from anxiety or depression. Depending on the circumstances this could be considered a disability and you may have to then have to look at making reasonable adjustments in line with the Equality Act 2010.

Our associate Judy Carole is an expert in helping employees cope with bereavement (and has submitted several pieces to this blog), so do get in touch with her if you need her support (judy@elmanagement.org).

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