Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg announced in the last few months that the company would double its standard bereavement leave allowance, giving employees a total of 20 days off work to grieve for immediate family members. Sandberg herself has spoken publicly about the death of her husband back in 2015, and in a statement issued via the social media network, she said: ‘We need public policies that make it easier for people to care for their children and ageing parents and for families to mourn and heal after loss’.
Though many issues in the workplace are sensitive and difficult to handle, this is one which particularly can be one of the very hardest to navigate.
As a manager or leader working with someone who is affected by such an event, this kind of situation can leave you wondering what to do for the best. Of course you’re conscious of the needs of your staff, and you want to make sure that they’re supported during what is one of the most stressful and upsetting times in their lives…but you also have a business to think about.
Best Practice would say that you needed to have robust policies in place for this sort of thing which you can implement in such situations. However I would counsel that it is an area where, although guidelines are a good idea, fixed and rigid processes do not work as you need to look at individual circumstances.
But what does the law say? As that's normally the starting point. Legislation wise, there is no statutory right to receive paid leave after the death of a loved one or a family member in the UK, so there’s no ‘statutory’ amount you can fall back on as a default. Workers are however entitled to take a ‘reasonable amount’ of unpaid time off when they have experienced the death of a dependent, but as with all employment law defined by what is 'reasonable', this can vary from case to case.
Ultimately, this means that it’s down to you to decide what’s fair, and how you want to make sure that you strike an effective balance between being a sympathetic and reasonable employer, and ensuring that day-to-day operational requirements are being met. The majority of companies do offer some form of compassionate leave and even if only for a few days, can be a relief to your employees.
The issue of bereavement leave is something that you might not even think about until you find yourself trying to navigate your way through a particularly sensitive set of circumstances. But it’s in the kind of situation when you need to ensure that you know exactly what your approach is going to be.
The bottom line here? No one likes to think about the practicalities of creating a bereavement policy but our experience has taught us that anyone managing such situation often needs some guidance. So taking action now though is likely to save you – and more pertinently – your staff a great deal of heartache in the longer term.
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