Sadly, in the UK to date, tens of thousands of people have died as a result of COVID-19. This makes it more important than ever for organisations to properly support those experiencing loss and grief in the immediate aftermath and in the longer-term.

The ongoing impact of the pandemic, means, that employees will have lost family members, partners and friends. Employees are also likely to have experienced the loss of co-workers. Much of this loss will be unexpected and shocking.

Due to the infectious nature of the virus, it is likely that a number of the bereaved will have been unable to say goodbye properly to loved ones, either in hospitals or at funerals, where attendees are severely restricted. All of this is likely to have a lasting psychological impact on employees which may heighten the need for psychological and emotional support such as counselling and therapy to help them come to terms with what they have experienced.

Grief is not linear and does not have predicted stages. Employees will react differently to their experiences of bereavement and this should be understood and respected by both employers and colleagues.

Bereavement in the workplace can be challenging - employees may need to take time off unexpectedly; find their performance is impacted or be temporarily unable to perform certain roles. However, a compassionate and supportive approach demonstrates that the organisation values its employees, helps build commitment and is likely to reduce sickness absence and help retain employees.

Below we outline some of the key ways organisations can support bereaved employees.

Bereavement policy

It’s a good idea for your workplace to have a policy that covers bereavement, detailing absence and pay, to keep things clear. A policy can also help clarify anything offered in addition to legal requirements and outline what employees can expect in terms of support. Employers who currently provide a policy may need to amend it to refer to parental bereavement pay and leave and may need to refer to this in documentation for new staff. Where employers do not have express policies, the new statutory provisions shall apply automatically.

You can find a template compassionate leave policy on HR-inform.

Legal rights

Anyone classed as an employee has the right to time off if:

  • their child is stillborn (from 24 weeks of pregnancy) or dies under the age of 18, known as Jack’s Law
  • a 'dependant' dies, for example their partner, parent, child, or someone else who relied on them.

Jack’s Law: parental bereavement leave and pay

On 6 April this year, legislation known as ‘Jack’s Law’ came into effect. It entitles all employees who lose a child under the age of 18, or whose child is stillborn from 24 weeks of pregnancy, to a statutory minimum of two weeks’ leave.

The right to Parental Bereavement Leave (PBL) will apply to all employed parents irrespective of how long they have been with their employer (the leave is a ‘day-one’ employment right).

The leave must be taken within 56 weeks of the date of the child’s death and the leave can be taken at short notice. The two weeks’ leave can be taken either in one block of two weeks, or as two separate blocks of one week each. If an employee loses more than one child, they can take a separate period of leave for each child.

Parents with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service with their employer and weekly average earnings over the lower earning limit will also be entitled to Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay (SPBP), paid at the statutory rate of £148.68 per week (for 2019 to 2020), or 90% of average weekly earnings where this is lower.

SPBP will be administered by employers in the same way as existing family-related statutory payments such as Statutory Paternity Pay. Employers can recover 92% of the SPBP paid, and those eligible for small employers relief can reclaim 100% plus a further element (currently 3%).

Time off for family and dependents

There is no legal right for statutory time off for dependants to be paid, but some employers might offer pay and at the CIPD we would strongly recommend that they do, if they can.

The law does not say how much time can be taken off if a dependant dies. It simply says the amount should be 'reasonable'. This will vary depending on an individual’s needs and employers should be flexible in accommodating these needs. The right to time off for dependants is intended to be a brief period for dealing with unexpected logistical issues and emergencies involving the dependant, including leave to arrange or attend a funeral. Read more about the right to time off for dependants.

Steps to supporting employees

  • Acknowledge the bereavement: Acknowledge the bereavement that the employee has experienced. They may or may not want to talk about the situation in detail but acknowledging that it has happened is important.
  • Discuss what they would like communicated: By law, an employee can keep their bereavement private from work colleagues. It can be a good idea for the employer to ask their employee what, if anything, they would like their work colleagues to know about the bereavement.
  • Build supportive cultures: Train your line managers to have open and sensitive conversations and to explore what extra support would be helpful to affected employees. Different cultures respond to death in significantly different ways. Line managers should check whether the employee’s religion or culture requires them to observe any particular practices or make special arrangements.
  • Flexibility is key: In particular, it might be helpful to support bereaved employees through the provision of a phased return to work and flexible working provisions.
  • Signpost to supportive services, organisations and charities: Many businesses will have counselling, occupational health and employee assistance programmes available to support their people, and they should highlight these to those experiencing bereavement. They should also signpost to relevant organisations and charities that can support bereaved employees; this will be particularly important for smaller businesses with limited resources (below we have included some further sources of support).

DISCLAIMER: The materials in this guidance are provided for general information purposes and do not constitute legal or other professional advice. While the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances may impact the accuracy and validity of the information. The CIPD is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for any action or decision taken as a result of using the guidance. You should consult a professional adviser for legal or other advice where appropriate.

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