For Whom the Bell Tolls

Compassionate Leave Policy

An employee or colleague who is dealing with the critical illness and then death of a loved one poses particular challenges. All of us would want to be very sympathetic in such circumstances and the employee will probably be very sensitive indeed to attitudes of goodwill or otherwise.  We all find it difficult to express our sympathy and deal with the grief of others.  Death is after all perhaps the most taboo subject in our society.  However, there are particular issues that managers have to deal with when someone at work suffers a bereavement.

People tend to react to bereavement in very different ways. Some will welcome the return to the normality of work and the distancing from grief.  Routine itself can be very welcome.  Others find that everything to do with work seems a transient irrelevance when they have been dealing with the epic issues of life and death.  The duration of grief should not be underestimated, the loss of someone close and loved often taking at least a year to begin to recover from.

The legal position is only the starting place. Employees have the right to take time off to deal with an emergency, but this is unpaid and also only the relatively short time that is necessary to put arrangements in place.  The emergency time off certainly does not cover the prolonged duration of grief.

In deciding what time off should be given for critical illness and bereavement it can also be difficult to define who is a loved one. An employee may be much fonder of a friend than of a very close relative, or of a distant relative rather than a close one.  Great care therefore has to be taken in defining circumstances in which any additional rights that are given will arise.  There is also the need to avoid discrimination, so for example, marital status, age, sexual orientation and gender should be an irrelevance.

So as to be consistent and give certainty to employees and managers it is wise to have a Compassionate Leave Policy. However, because this will have to cover the infinite variability of personal circumstances and relationships, it should be as flexible as possible.

Recognising the problems that can arise and how difficult they can be to deal with, ACAS have recently issued a guide called ‘Managing Bereavement in the Workplace – A Good Practice Guide’. This can be found on the ACAS website.  It makes interesting reading and you will find it particularly useful when you have a bereavement situation to deal with at work.