Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Absence due to bereavement - Acas Guidelines

Despite bereavement affecting absolutely every single member of society, it has traditionally been seen as a 'taboo' subject, and as such there has not been much thought in business as to the correct way to handle an employee who is dealing with a recent bereavement.  Some employers have a policy for dealing with bereavement absence and compassionate leave, though many do not and in such cases, it is helpful to seek advice from such associations as ACAS.

No definition of 'reasonable' bereavement absence

Legally, employees are entitled to 'time off for dependants' (but nothing for non-dependants).  This is a reasonable amount of unpaid leave to deal with unforeseen emergencies, including arranging and attending the funeral of a dependant, and other tasks associated with such a death.  What the law defines as 'reasonable' is not specific but is generally understood to mean 1-2 days depending on the circumstances.  Many employers choose to offer paid special leave in this situation, and employees suffering from the stress of a bereavement may need longer time away from work as 'sick leave' if they are not well enough to be at work.

A 'dependant' could be a spouse, partner, child, parent or anyone living in the household. It could also be someone who relies on an employee for their care or for help during an emergency, such as an elderly neighbour.

Having a written bereavement policy is useful

Experts maintain that having a policy for compassionate leave  is really useful when supporting employees, who are more likely to return to work quickly if they see it as a source of support. It's also a help for managers who may be faced with sensitive conversations, and may be thankful for having a written policy to follow.

'Managing bereavement in the workplace - a good practice guide' aims to help employers manage this difficult situation with their employee in the immediate aftermath of bereavement as well as longer term. It can help employers prepare for managing bereavement in the workplace by having a clear bereavement policy and by training managers and selected staff to have compassionate and effective conversations with bereaved employees. The guidance was developed with a range of partners including Cruse Bereavement Care, NCPC and Dying Matters, and can be downloaded free of charge:

ACAS support welcomed by 'Dying Matters'

Claire Henry, Chief Executive of NCPC, which leads the Dying Matters Coalition, said:

“Every minute someone in the UK dies, and almost half of us report having been bereaved in the last five years. Yet society’s response, including in the workplace, often falls short – making it even harder for people to come to terms with the loss of someone close to them.

That’s why we are delighted to welcome this important new ACAS guidance which we fed into, and believe it should become required reading for all employers, supported by training for all line managers in talking about sensitive issues such as bereavement. Whether it’s through providing time off or flexible working for employees who have been bereaved or sensitive conversations and offers of support, employers can make a massive difference. With the number of people dying each year set to increase there’s never been a more important time to get bereavement support right, both in the workplace and throughout society.”

Bereavement leave needs to be administered fairly and recorded properly

Adrian Lewis, Commercial Director of Codel Software, developers of leading absence management solution Activ Absence, said: 

"Every bereavement absence situation is different, which is why the law is not specific as to how many days special leave should be granted.  However, as with all forms of absence, special leave for bereavement needs to be administered fairly and recorded properly. 

It is on areas like this that using our partnership network of HR consultants and legal experts is ideal, any Active Absence customers who would like help creating a  bereavement policy (or any other HR issue) can contact us and we will put them in touch with an expert who will give a 15 minute consultation free of charge".

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