Do I have to offer bereavement pay?

A member of staff experienced a family loss and took time off to grieve. I did not pay them bereavement pay at the time as I wasn't sure if they were entitled to it. The employee is now claiming he would like to be paid for the time off.

The loss of a loved one or a significant other is arguably one of the most difficult experiences in any person’s life. For employers, it can be challenging to know how to respond to an employee who has experienced loss, without causing further grievance to the individual. The way in which an employer handles periods of bereavement can ultimately effect the employee’s grief process, while also influencing how the business is perceived by both employees and in the public eye. Should the issue be dealt with in the incorrect manner, it could lead to possible legal implications. This often pertains to ensuring employees’ rights regarding bereavement leave and pay are fulfilled by the organisation.

There is no specific statutory entitlement to bereavement leave; instead, the time taken off could partly come under the right to reasonable time off work for emergencies regarding dependants. A dependant can be a spouse, civil partner, child, parent, anyone in the same household or anyone relying on the employee’s care in an emergency. This is classed as time off for dependants but is unpaid.

However, time off for dependants does not provide an employee with the right to take time off to grieve subsequent to a death. This would need to be covered by a separate contractual provision to take bereavement leave so you should look at this employee’s contract to see whether bereavement leave is mentioned, and then act accordingly. As there are no statutory requirements surrounding this, there is no need to pay an employee for bereavement leave even if the contract provides for it. It may be seen as good employee relations if employers pay their employees for this type of leave, however, it is not required.

It is advisable for employers to have a bereavement policy in place, to ensure that clarity is provided to all employees on their contractual rights in this situation. If the employer has not created a clear bereavement policy and it is not within the terms and conditions, then it is up to their discretion for any leave to be agreed between the employer and employee. This discretion can be extended to cover whether the leave is paid or unpaid. This flexible approach can be convenient as individual reactions to bereavement can vary greatly and some employees may cope better than others. If bereavement leave is unpaid and no alternative has been agreed, then the employee is not entitled to receive payment during their time off.

While ensuring that you have the appropriate policies in place to cover instances of bereavement is important, equally as significant is that employers demonstrate a sense of compassion to their employees. Displaying signs that you empathise with your employee’s predicament will make him feel valued at a time in, which they are extremely vulnerable emotionally. As a result, it will encourage employees to speak openly and honestly with their employers, which is beneficial to their own piece of mind and for your business it will increase the likelihood of retaining loyal and happy employees.

David Price is managing director of Health Assured.

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David Price

David Price

David Price is CEO of Health Assured, a part of the Peninsula Group.

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