Sick leave caused by grief is not time off for dependants

Sick leave caused by grief is not time off for dependants: Forster took three days’ sick leave two months after starting employment at the solicitors firm. Three months later, she took 12 days’ paid bereavement leave due to the death of her father. After a further four months, she took two days’ sick leave, and then her mother died in the same month. Forster took five days’ bereavement leave, and then two weeks’ sick leave, certified by her GP for a ‘bereavement reaction’.

She was then off a further two weeks. During this period of sick leave her employer called her in for a meeting and she was dismissed. She had not accumulated the necessary year’s service to claim for unfair dismissal, but she claimed the reason for her absence was “in consequence of the death of a dependant” under s57A(1)(c) Employment Rights Act 1996, and consequently her dismissal was automatically unfair.

The tribunal held that the period of absence did not fall within s57A(1)(c) and dismissed the complaint. Forster appealed, but it was dismissed.

The EAT held that sickness absence taken as a result of a bereavement did not fall within the scope of s57A(1)(c). The trigger for the entitlement to take time off was that the time off was taken for action that was necessary as the consequence of the death of a dependant, such as for funeral arrangements, registering the death and applying for probate.

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