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Dealing With Bereavement In The Workplace

Posted On: 12/03/2019

One in 10 people will be affected by bereavement at any given time here in the UK.  Dealing with bereavement in the workplace can be extremely challenging especially if there is no managed approach.  To support the employee and lessen the impact on the organisation employers will benefit from forward planning.

Why a managed approach is important?

Planning ahead will better equip a manager to successfully support a bereaved employee.  It’s crucial to remain respectful and understand that individuals will react differently to bereavement; some will cope well while others may feel overwhelmed and need extra support. A compassionate and flexible approach will:

Bereavement policy

It’s good practice to have in place a Bereavement Policy which acknowledges:

It is key that managers are empowered to be flexible around the guidelines set out in the policy.

The notification and days following the death

The manager must communicate with empathy and calmness. At the time of notification, the only communication necessary from the employer is:

Contact the employee for the follow-up conversation at the agreed time and by the agreed method.

Stages of grief

What an employee believes they can deal with and what they can actually cope with may be two very separate things.  The full impact of grief may only become apparent weeks, or months after the initial bereavement. 

Regular reviews between the employee and their manager should remain open and flexible.  These discussions should focus on the individual and what continued support they need, this could be in the form of counselling or a change in hours or role. 

Birthdays and anniversaries   

The anniversary of a death or a birthday can be extremely upsetting.  Managers should be sensitive that an employee may need extra support or take annual leave around these times.

The death of a colleague

A death of a colleague can have a devastating impact on an entire workforce.  After all, we spend so much time with our colleagues, we share good and bad times together – they often feel like our extended family.  Employers must acknowledge the significant role colleagues play in each other’s lives and allow those close to the employee who has passed away to grieve.

The passing of a close colleague may also be affecting managers and the HR team which makes this issue extremely hard to manage.  Here’s what an employer can do:

Future changes in the law: Parental Bereavement Leave

Parents who suffer the death of their child will be entitled to parental bereavement leave from April 2020.  This leave will also apply to adopters, foster parents and guardians as well as relatives or close family friends who have taken responsibility for the care of the child in the absence of a parent or primary carer.

The leave will be for at least two weeks following the death of the child under the age of 18 or a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy.  Employees with 26 week’s continuous service will be entitled to receive paid leave at the statutory rate and those without will be entitled to unpaid leave.

The leave can be taken in one block or in two separate blocks of one week and must be taken within 56 weeks of the child’s death.

The current law states that an employee has the right to have ‘reasonable’ time off to deal with an emergency such as a bereavement.  Most employers offer five days paid leave and female employees who suffer a stillbirth after 24 weeks are entitled up to 52 weeks statutory maternity leave and/or pay.  

We’re here to help  

If you would like to discuss how to create a bereavement policy or need any support on this matter our team of HR professionals are here to help.  Please call us on 0161 941 2426 and allow us to support you and any of your employees affected by bereavement. 


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