Most people will experience the death of someone close to them during their working lives. Grief is a natural response people have when they experience a death. But grief can affect people in different ways and can impact on their ability to do their work.
As a small business owner, handling staff members who’ve experienced the bereavement of someone close to them can be a delicate business. Yes, the business needs to be productive, but the needs of the staff member are paramount.
In this guide, we will look at bereavement allowance in detail, as well as looking at how a small business owner can handle bereavement sensitively and legally.
What is Bereavement Leave?
Are All Staff Members Entitled to Time Off If They Experience a Bereavement?
Anyone classed as an employee has the right to time off if:
- A child or other dependant dies.
- Their newborn child is stillborn or dies at birth.
- If an employee’s dependant dies
This right to time off is set out in law in the UK.
What Classes as a Dependent?
A dependant could be an employee’s:
- Spouse, partner, or civil partner.
- Parent or stepparent.
- Child (if under 18)
- A person who lives in their household who is not a tenant, lodger or employee.
- A person who would rely on them for help in the event of an accident, illness, or injury, such as an elderly neighbour.
- A person who relies on them to make care arrangements.
Will Staff Be Paid for Bereavement Allowance?
There’s no legal right for time off for dependants to be paid, but some employers might offer pay. If they do, this will be set out in contracts of employment or the organisation’s bereavement policy.
Regardless of whether an employee has a right to time off, employers should be compassionate towards a person’s individual situation. The person who has died might not have a biological or legal connection to the employee but might still be closely connected to them. Being insensitive in such issues can lead to valued staff leaving or becoming disillusioned with the company.
How Much Time Can be Taken Off for Bereavement?
The law does not say how much time can be taken off if a dependant who is not someone’s child dies. It simply says the amount should be ‘reasonable‘. This time off is for dealing with unexpected issues and emergencies involving the dependant, including leave to arrange or attend a funeral.
Employers often state how long is acceptable for bereavement allowance in their company policies. Most companies will offer at least a few days to mourn as well time off to attend the funeral. For small businesses it’s important to assess the impact of staff missing work against their needs to deal with the death. Getting this wrong can be disastrous for the mental health and morale of staff.
What If the Time Off Is to Cover the Death of An Employee’s Child?
The amount of time allowed off to deal with a child’s death is slightly different to other types of bereavement allowance and is set out in law. Employees have a right to 2 weeks off if their child dies under the age of 18 or is stillborn after a minimum of 24 weeks of pregnancy. This is called ‘parental bereavement leave’ and is also known as ‘Jack’s Law’.
Tips For Dealing with Bereavement Allowance as a Small Business Owner
Everybody experiences grief differently. It’s important for employers to:
- Be sensitive to what each staff member might need at the time they experience the bereavement. This may be different for everyone and may include time off or emotional support.
- Consider the person’s physical and emotional wellbeing, including when they return to work. Think about the stress that working may cause and look for ways to ease them back into the business without causing upset.
- Recognise that grief is not a standard process and affects everyone differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and it can affect people at different times in different ways. Don’t assume you can devise a catch all process for dealing with staff bereavement issues and be willing to adapt if necessary to meet their needs.
- Be aware that those supporting employees through bereavement, might also experience a range of emotions that may have an impact on their work. Be ready to support these people too if necessary.
What Should Be in A Small Business Bereavement Policy?
It’s important for small businesses to have a robust bereavement policy that attends to the business as well as the staff member’s needs while staying legal. Here are a few things that should be included:
- When leave for bereavement applies.
- How much leave an employee is entitled to.
- Whether the leave is paid and how much this is.
Employers should be consistent and clear with the approach they take to supporting employees.
Can I Offer Other Forms of Leave Instead of a Bereavement Allowance?
As a small business owner, there is no reason why you can’t allow staff members to take other forms of leave when they experience a bereavement. This can often allow staff to be paid when they otherwise wouldn’t or give them more time off to deal with the issue if they need it. The time off could be treated as sick leave or taken as holiday.
Do Employees Have a Right for Time Off to Attend a Funeral?
An employee has the right to time off for a funeral if the person who died was a dependant. There’s no legal right to time off for a funeral if the person who died was not a dependant. However, employers might offer time off. This might be called ‘compassionate leave’ or ‘special leave’.
What Does the Law Say About Bereavement Allowance?
As well as the previously mentioned 2 weeks statutory bereavement leave for staff members who experiences the death of a child, there are a few other legal rights that employers need to be wary of.
Employers are legally bound to not discriminate against employees when deciding on time off. For example, not allowing an employee to attend a religious ceremony after a death could be indirect religious discrimination.
We hope this guide helps small business owners understand bereavement allowance better. For more useful workplace guides, check out more here.