Employers lack sympathy for bereaved workers

bereavement leave

Bereaved staff are being failed by their employers, according to a report published today by bereavement and palliative care charities.

One-third (32%) of employed people who suffered a bereavement in the past five years said they were not treated with compassion by their employer, and 87% of people surveyed believed that all employers should have a compassionate employment policy, which includes paid bereavement leave, flexible working and other support.

The research, Life after death: six steps to improve support in bereavement, also found that more than half of the 4,000 people polled would consider leaving their job if their employer did not provide proper support if someone close to them died.

“Employers have an important role to play by being compassionate and having a bereavement policy in place,” said Eve Richardson, chief executive of the National Council for Palliative Care and the Dying Matters Coalition. “They should also ensure that they support their managers so that they are confident in having sensitive discussions about end-of-life issues with their staff.”

Four people out of five believed that there should be a legal right to receive paid bereavement leave. At present, there is no statutory paid bereavement leave, although employees have the right to “reasonable” unpaid time off to deal with the consequences of dealing with the death of a dependent. This can include time off to deal with practicalities such as arranging a funeral.

Dawn Chaplin, co-founder of the National Bereavement Alliance, said: “Learning to live with the loss of someone close is one of the most painful experiences we can encounter, and society’s response often makes it even harder. There’s an urgent need to improve access to bereavement services and to ensure that people who have been bereaved are not ignored or left isolated.”

Jeya Thiruchelvam, employment law editor at XpertHR, said: “Section 57a of the Employment Rights Act 1996 entitles all employees to take a reasonable amount of time off work ‘to take action which is necessary’ in relation to the care of certain dependants. The case of Forster v Cartwright Black in 2004 established that action can include making funeral arrangements, attending the funeral, registering the death, applying for probate and similar practical arrangements.”

As well as making recommendations around improving bereavement support in the workplace, the report calls for improved training to support all staff who come into regular contact with people who have been recently bereaved. It also calls for a national review of the effect on bereaved people of welfare reforms – including changes to bereavement benefit – and for the appointment of a Government minister with responsibility for bereavement.

One Response to Employers lack sympathy for bereaved workers

  1. CommonSense 15 Jan 2014 at 4:40 pm #

    Every single person on this planet will need to deal with bereavement at different points during their life as we are human beings not robots. It is not optional! It is unpleasant and can be a lifechanging experience that effects everyone on both sides, employers and employees. People cope in different ways, some prefer to be busy and others need time to sort things out on their own. That is what makes us all different and unique. One approach will not suit everyone.
    From an employers perspective, allowing your employee time to cope and deal with the situation will enable them to return to work in a much better frame of mind and you will keep their trust and loyalty. It also shows that you are a human being as you care about their wellbeing! Whatever part they play in your organisation, your staff make or break you as a company.
    It is difficult for anyone to determine what a minimum amount of time off someone will need as we are all different. I agree that there should be a minimum amount of time for statutory fully paid bereavement so that everyone can take the initial time to make arrangements and grieve. Close family deaths are not going to be a regular occurrence so there should not be a huge financial pressure on organisations to be able to offer paid bereavement. Not doing this may lead to other more serious and higher financial problems for organisations anyway such as stress or illness by pressures at work and trying to deal with a death at the same time.
    There should be a statutory and optional bereavement period that people can take without feeling victimised or weak for taking time out of work. Therefore people that want to get back to work as soon as possible can, and others that need more time can take some extra unpaid / part paid time up to a certain point to help them get through things. It is a situation that will effect us all so bringing the human element back into this kind of situation is what is needed.