How to Manage Bereavement in the Workplace
Suffering the loss of a loved one will be a difficult time in many aspects. It will obviously have a dramatic effect on your emotional wellbeing for some time and this in turn can affect all areas of your life including your employment.
If you employ people to work for you who then suffer a bereavement you will need to be aware of how to best handle the situation so that both the employee and your business are taken care of.
This article will address bereavement, in particular, how suffering a bereavement can impact on employment, both for employees and employers. By the end of the article employers should have an understanding of what support should be offered to a grieving employee and the best practice for dealing with this difficult and upsetting situation. While employees should have an understanding of the potential help available to them from their employer.
The Employment Rights Act
Employees are protected under the Employment Rights Act in respect to time off for bereavement. Under Section 57(A) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, an employee is entitled to reasonable time off work to deal with an emergency such as bereavement. However, the use of the word reasonable can cause confusion as its meaning can differ from person-to-person and situation-to-situation.
In order to assess how much time would be considered reasonable each situation must be weighed on its own merits. As said above it will be different for each employee and must be judged individually. An employer does not have to pay an employee for time off from work for bereavement. However, many employers will offer paid compassionate leave as part of their employment package.
Discussion is Essential
As with many aspects of working life communication is key to a successful working relationship between employer and employee. While bereavement is a delicate subject and can be uncomfortable to discuss, it is crucial to have that discussion It is likely that immediately after the death an employee will not wish to speak much or at all, an employer should try not to pressure the employee into making decisions regarding work at this point.
An employer should offer their condolences early on in the process, remember whilst this person is your employee and your relationship is a business relationship it is a good idea to show your more human side in situations such as this. A little sympathy goes a long way.
Make sure that the bereaved employee knows they are not expected to work on the day the death has taken place. An employee will feel more supported if they hear that work comes second. Being clear about this removes any kind of potential misunderstanding as well as a lot of stress for an employee who has recently suffered a tragic loss, it also offers comfort that the employer cares about their well-being. One of the questions that should be raised is is it ok for the employer to tell the employee’s co-workers if they say no then this is protected data and should not be shared.
It is also important for employers to be conscious of an employee’s religious needs, for example, Jewish employees may wish for the seven days of mourning to be observed.
Sometime after the initial bereavement, there should be a discussion regarding work. Employers should try to be understanding at this point, being open and honest is key but keep in mind each other’s viewpoints and try to agree on a way forward.
After the initial discussion, an open dialogue should be encouraged, with employers checking in on the employee every so often. However, this should not be constant as that could constitute harassment and bullying. Employers should ask employees how they would like to stay in contact. Are there particular times to avoid? Agree with yourselves early on when check-ins should be made, for example, every week or fortnight until after the funeral.
After the funeral, it might be wise to consider a second meeting, as the employee will have had some time to come to terms with what is needed of them to deal with the bereavement, both physically and emotionally and will be in a better position to give an estimate of when they can return to work.
There is no one size fits all approach to bereavement, it depends on so many factors, the bereaved person and their relationship with the deceased is just one aspect. The employer/manager should keep communication with the bereaved employee open to keep everyone aware of the situation. Some employers have reported that despite this being a terrible tragedy, by keeping communication open and being understanding, it has strengthened their relationship, not only with the bereaved employee but with the entire workforce.
Bereavement can trigger mental health issues such as anxiety and depression in employees. An employer needs to be aware that if an employee becomes depressed or suffers from PTSD because of a bereavement they may be considered disabled under the Equality Act 2010.
The Equality Act 2010 states that employers must make reasonable adjustments for employees who are considered disabled, such as altering working hours. However, if an employee does become depressed due to the bereavement they should keep the employer informed of this and may have to provide sick notes from their GP to confirm the diagnosis.
Once an employee returns to work regular reviews should take place to ensure they are coping with their workload and other members of staff are coping as well.
In conclusion, if an employee suffers bereavement this will be a tragic and challenging time for them and their employer. However, there are ways to manage expectations and workloads to ensure that the business relationship does not become weak or damaged as a result of poor handling of the situation. Open communication is key, being honest and open about expectations on both sides will help prevent confusion. Being sympathetic and understanding will help strengthen a working relationship not only with the bereaved employee but with the entire workforce. Lastly, should an employee suffer with depression as a result of the bereavement then extra steps will need to be taken to ensure a return to work.