Three Steps Employers Can Take to Help Support Bereaved Employees

Published May 07 2021

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Next week is Dying Matters Awareness Week and is intended as an opportunity for organisations, individuals and others to come together and open up the conversation around death, dying and bereavement. Supporting a bereaved employee is an area which managers can sometimes find difficult, it’s not always a situation which is thought about until it arises and often there is worry about saying or doing the wrong thing.

With this in mind, we thought it would be beneficial to look at three steps employers may wish to take when it comes to supporting bereaved employees in the workplace.

1. Be prepared to have a conversation

Bereavement is a subject that people can find difficult to talk about so it’s important to create a supportive culture where employees feel able to discuss such matters if they wish to do so. Managers can be a valuable source of support for employees during such an upsetting time but having a conversation around bereavement can sometimes seem daunting so it’s a good idea for managers to be prepared in case an employee wishes to talk. Whilst every situation is different, it’s helpful to bear these tips in mind:

  • Ensure the conversation won’t be interrupted
  • Listen closely to what the employee is saying
  • Be patient, sympathetic and allow enough time for the conversation to take place
  • Be able to signpost employees to external sources of support where appropriate

If you think action may need to be taken after a conversation, you should contact Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd for advice.

2. Know what ‘the rules’ are when it comes to bereavement leave

When an employee is bereaved, they will often need or want to take some time off work so it’s important that managers are aware of what the entitlements are in terms of time off and pay. When it comes to statutory rights:

  • There is no statutory right to time off to grieve, apart from in the case of employed parents who lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy. They have a statutory right to two weeks parental bereavement leave and in some cases a right to statutory parental bereavement leave pay. Further information about this right, which was introduced in April last year, is available from Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd.
  • Employees do have a statutory right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work when it is necessary to take action required in consequence of the death of a dependant such as arranging and attending a funeral. For this right, a dependant is defined as a parent, spouse, civil partner, child or someone who lives in the same household who is not a tenant or lodger.

Many employers offer better rights when it comes to time off for bereavement, particularly in relation to pay so it’s important for employers to check their contracts of employment and custom and practice to identify what employees are entitled to in their organisation. It’s worth bearing in mind that if an employee isn’t entitled to bereavement leave/paid leave they may wish to use annual leave instead.

3. Be alert to employees who may need help

Every employee will deal with a bereavement differently, for some it may impact them in the workplace. If there is a change in an employee’s performance or behaviour which is of concern often the first step will be to have a conversation with the employee as this will help to identify what action or support, if any, is needed.

There may be occasions where employees experience mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression which can be as a consequence of bereavement. Where such employees would be considered disabled under the Equality Act, employers should bear in mind that there is a duty to make reasonable adjustments.

If you would like employment law advice regarding a bereaved employee in your workplace or there is any other employment law matter you would like assistance with, please do not hesitate to contact Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd as we are happy to help.