Managing Bereavement Leave Sensitively
As you will be aware, all employees are entitled by law to reasonable time off work to deal with an emergency such as bereavement. Unfortunately however, reasonableness is not defined and the law only entitles an employee to unpaid leave. So Acas has published new non-binding guidance on managing the impact of bereavement in the workplace on its website www.acas.org.uk
The guidance recommends that a single period of paid leave is provided to all employees, depending on whether, for example, the deceased was a child, partner or parent. However, the problem with a blanket approach is that this is likely to provide too much leave for some and not enough for others.
Alternatively employers could grant of bereavement leave on a purely discretionary basis. Following a discussion between management and the affected employee, a decision can then be taken about how much leave to offer and what proportion (if any) of that should be paid. However, this is fraught with difficulty as with any discretionary benefit, a potential downside is the risk of claims for unlawful discrimination, particularly where there are specific religious grieving requirements that the employee is expected to adhere to.
So if you have some guidance on typical leave allowances in your employee handbook, but state that any additional leave is at the discretion of the employer, that should provide maximum flexibility where required. However, you need make sure that you document any reasons behind your decision to grant or refuse additional leave should a grievance be raised by the affected employee or another at a later stage wanting to use the example as a precedent.
Actually handling discussions with employees about such emotive matters can be very daunting for employers, so if you want assistance with this or access to some coaching to help deal with difficult conversations, please contact Cherington HR for further advice and tools to help.
Posted on 19 Nov 2016