by Judy Carole

An employee suffers a bereavement

A blanket policy of x amount of days’ compassionate leave on the death of a family member is not a realistic solution, as not everyone will have the same reactions. The death of close friends can also have far-reaching effects, for example, while unexpected deaths are often the most difficult losses. There is thus a requirement to install flexible company policies, but without at the same time giving a license to take either open-ended compassionate leave or leave due to stress, on full pay.

In essence, there is nothing in employment law regarding grief in the workplace and it is up to individual companies how much leave they are prepared to provide. The accepted amount of time is three days’ paid leave, any further time off needing to be covered by a doctor’s note. It is, of course, in the company’s interest to do all it can to prevent the employee from taking extended paid leave covered in this way.

If an employee notifies you of the death of someone significant to them, you should immediately react.

  • State that you are extremely sorry to hear of this.
  • Suggest that he/she contact you when they have had time to digest the news.
  • Immediately acknowledge the death by sending a note from management and co-workers.
  • Notify their deputy or co-worker and arrange a meeting to decide how to cover that person’s workload for an initial two-week period.
  • Have an emergency plan for an additional two weeks; you may not need it, but it’s better to be prepared than to scramble to find a solution at the last minute.
  • Send one or two colleagues to the funeral; this can demonstrate solidarity and give the employee a sense that the company is involved and supportive.
  • If no one can attend the funeral, arrange for flowers to be sent.
  • Ask the bereaved person how you can best support them when they return to work.

Initial meeting

Since the symptoms of grief, most especially the difficulty in making decisions and forgetfulness, are quite contrary to workplace behaviour, it is important for the bereaved person to have some flexibility in their workload. This is why an initial meeting should be held to decide how to cover that person’s responsibilities for a two-week period, with an emergency plan for an additional month.