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Bereavement Leave: Current Rights and Ongoing Fights

When an employee suffers a bereavement it is a serious and upsetting time for them and those around them and as such it is likely to leave the bereaved person requiring time away from work to deal with the fallout.

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees currently have a statutory right to a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off following a death, however if they are refused such leave by an employer, they may have a claim to seek compensation.

The same Act defines the particular individuals in respect of whom an employee may take bereavement leave for, specifically a spouse, civil partner, child, parent or an individual for whom the bereaved provided care. Employers are however allowed to exercise discretion in authorising leave in respect of the passing of non-dependents. 

An employee’s statutory right to such leave is subject to them having informed their employer of the reason for the absence and how long it is expected to last. There is no requirement that such information be in writing, however provision of sufficient information so that the employer can determine that the time requested is ‘reasonable’ and so compatible with the statutory right is certainly good practice.

There is however currently no statutory right for an employee to be paid during bereavement leave. Campaigners have again been putting pressure on the Government to change this fact, following a recent report by the National Council for Pallative Care (NCPC), the results of which point to those suffering a bereavement not being offered sufficient support at work.

A fair few employers however have express policies in place, either in the employment contract or staff handbook. Often such policies go beyond the basic statutory rights, some even offering fully paid leave. Such employers would however accurately be classed as being in the minority and without such a policy it falls to the legislation and so discretion of the employer. These employers would also need to ensure uniformity in applying the policy, as a protracted amount of leave given to one employee may form an unwanted custom and practice that may be asserted by the others.

Popular opinion does seem to be on the side of the reformers though. A recent poll conducted by the Change Bereavement Leave campaign discovered that 71% of those polled were in favour of paid bereavement leave. In addition and perhaps more appealing to Whitehall, 70% of people believed that there should be a guaranteed national minimum for paid bereavement leave, so a similar approach then to some of life’s other unavoidable occurrences such as maternity, paternity and jury service.

Conclusion

Whether the Government will agree to such calls of course remains to be seen. In the meantime, should an employee find themselves suffering a bereavement requiring leave, they will be left at the mercy of either the relevant policy or alternatively the reasonable discretion of their employer.


Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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