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Simon Bond  

Partner, Employment

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Simon Bond Dec 2012

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Managing bereavement in the workplace

 

Article date:  24/10/2014

Grief following the death of a loved one affects everyone differently. Managing that grief in the workplace is a delicate and often difficult role for employers.

Simon Bond, an employment lawyer at Higgs & Sons, has welcomed a new guide from workplace expert ACAS on how to manage employees who suffer a bereavement.

ACAS research showed that a third of employees affected by bereavement in the past five years felt that they had not been treated with compassion by their employer. Nearly nine out 10 said employers should have a compassionate employment policy that included paid bereavement leave.

Simon commented: "There is currently no legal requirement for employers to provide paid leave to their staff who suffer a bereavement, although some groups argue that there should be a statutory minimum period of paid leave.

"Most employees do have a statutory right to a 'reasonable' amount of unpaid time off under the Employment Rights Act to allow them to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies involving a dependant. This right includes leave to arrange or attend a funeral. What is 'reasonable' will depend upon the nature of the incident and the employee's individual circumstances.

"An employee may be equally affected by the death of someone who isn't a dependant as defined by the law and in this situation he or she has no legal right as such to time off."

The ACAS guide, says its chairman Sir Brendan Barber, aims to help employers manage a difficult situation, and includes advice for managers on how to get the balance right in order to be supportive, compassionate, flexible and practical towards employees.

Simon added: "The guidance includes a specimen bereavement policy and employers may wish to read the ACAS advice to consider what best arrangements they can put in place within their organisation."

The ACAS good practice advice to employers on managing bereavement includes the following: 

  • Everyone reacts differently to bereavement and this should be understood and respected by both employers and colleagues.
  • Employers can prepare for managing bereavement in the workplace by having a clear policy on it and training managers to have compassionate and effective conversations with bereaved colleagues.
  • A calm empathetic approach in all communications from managers will ensure employees feel supported and minimise their anxiety about returning to work.
  • Some employees may feel able to return to work very swiftly, whilst others may need more time. The relationship with the person who died and the circumstances of the death will all have an impact on the employee, particularly if the death was sudden or traumatic.
  • It is often difficult for bereaved employees to judge how they will feel in the workplace and a swift return to work does not necessarily mean that an employee will not need support.
  • The full emotional impact of the bereavement may not be felt for some time after a death.
  • Employers need to be mindful of the family unit of the bereaved and appreciate that in many cases, a flexible approach such as offering part-time hours or flexible working is more likely to support and retain the employee and minimise sickness absence.

Higgs & Sons is based in the heart of the Black Country at the Waterfront Business Park in Brierley Hill. The growing team now boasts 100 plus specialist lawyers available to support clients in a comprehensive range of business and private sectors.

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