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Employment Law A-Z - Bereavement Leave

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In our new regular newsletter feature for 2024, solicitor Molly Mackay will bring you insights into various areas of HR and employment law covering the alphabet.

B is for… Bereavement Leave 

Employees have a legal right to time off (and pay) if their child under the age of 18 dies or is stillborn, under statutory rights introduced in 2020. 

If an employee’s child under the age of 18 dies, or their child is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy, the employee is entitled to Parental Bereavement Leave, which is up to two weeks to be taken anytime within the first 56 weeks after the death. Employers should have a policy in place surrounding parental bereavement leave and the entitlement that employees have to time off and related pay.

Another statutory right which might be applicable is the right to time off for dependants. This right is limited though, and it has been expressly stated by the courts that it isn’t compassionate leave. Instead, it is limited to reasonable time off when a dependant dies specifically to deal with practical matters relating to funeral arrangements and attendance, and dealing with certain probate matters. A dependant in this instance is:

  • The employee's spouse or civil partner
  • A child of the employee.
  • A parent of the employee.
  • A person who lives in the same household as the employee (but who is not their tenant, lodger, boarder or employee)

It does not include grandparents, grandchildren, or other family members, unless they live with the employee

For any other bereavement or compassionate leave which is not covered by the statutory provisions for parental bereavement leave or time off for dependants, there is no legal right to time off. However, most employers will have a compassionate leave policy in place, and if not it’s a good idea to introduce one. Many employers are more than willing to go further that the law provides.

You will often take each situation on its own merit and exercise further discretion where appropriate, but having a policy in place setting some minimum expectations and entitlements will help to provide comfort and clarity at what will be a very difficult time for the individual affected. 

You may even want to go as far as considering something like a Pet Bereavement Policy, where employees are entitled to take time off following the death of their pet. As a nation of animal lovers, many people experience extreme grief at losing a beloved pet. A sensitive and forward thinking employer will show understanding and compassion with a suitable policy in place.