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Should there be a right to paid bereavement leave?

Campaigners have been pressurising the government to change the law relating to the paid right to bereavement leave. Currently there is no entitlement to bereavement leave after the death of a family member. A recent poll conducted by Change Bereavement Leave Campaign, found that 71% of 1508 people questioned believed the law should be changed. The poll also found that 7 out of 10 people believed there should be a national guaranteed minimum of paid leave for bereavement.

Although employees are entitled to ‘time off for dependants’ to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies (which would include time off to arrange a funeral), this leave is not intended for grieving and is unpaid.

Many employers do have a compassionate leave policy setting out what employees are entitled to in various circumstances. Such a policy can have a positive impact on the workforce by demonstrating that you are a supportive employer. A compassionate leave policy also assists managers when dealing with such leave, to ensure consistency and reasonableness.

Tom Harris, Glasgow South MP,  has been pushing for legislative change and introduced a Private Members’ Bill (the Parental Bereavement Leave (Statutory Entitlement) Bill 2013-14) in September this year, requiring national guaranteed minimum bereavement leave for grieving parents. During Prime Minister’s Question Time on 20 November 2013 David Cameron, having lost a child himself, acknowledged that this was an important issue and one which he was happy to look into.

The Bill proposed a two week entitlement to leave with employers having the option to be flexible beyond the initial period.

Comment

How employers deal with bereavement will vary massively from business to business. The current debate sets a clear divide between the campaigners who feel strongly that a national guaranteed minimum bereavement leave should be standard and some employers who feel that this is yet another financial burden being placed on them. From the commentary it is clear that everyone believes people need time to grieve, but it is a question of (1) how much time? and (2) who pays for this time?

The Bill is in its early days and we will have to wait and see how it progresses. However, employers should use this opportunity to either implement a compassionate leave policy or to review their existing policy to ensure this issue is dealt with. It is a regrettable fact of life that most people will suffer grief at some point and employers who are supportive, consistent and reasonable will benefit from a positive relationship with their employees.

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Legal news, views, trends and tools for HR Professionals. Stay ahead. Go further