Workplace Report February 2014


Should there be a legal right to bereavement leave?

The issue of bereavement leave has been in the news of late, with renewed calls for the introduction of a statutory right to time off in the event of the death of someone close a worker. A Workplace Report survey finds workers covered by collective agreements get an average five days off after the death of a loved one.

The current position is that there is no strict legal right to time off in the event of bereavement. The only relevant provision is referred to in the Acas employment relations service’s guidance on the time off for dependants

The guidance, available on Acas’ website, says that all employees have the right to time off during working hours for dependants; this time off is intended to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies.

A dependant could be a spouse, partner, child, parent or someone who depends on an employee for care, for example an elderly neighbour.

The leave can be taken for example:

• to deal with a breakdown in childcare;

• to put longer term care in place for children or elderly relatives;

• if a dependant fall ill or is taken into hospital; or

• to arrange or attend a funeral.

The right is to a “reasonable” amount of time off, although it is not stated how much is reasonable.

The guidance suggests that in most cases a day or two will be sufficient to deal with the immediate crisis, but it will depend on the individual circumstances. Whatever the circumstances, the employee must tell the employer as soon as possible the reason for the absence and how long they expect to be absent.

There is no legal right to be paid. However, some employers may offer a contractual right to pay under the terms and conditions of employment.

The Acas website also covers the issue of compassionate leave, when someone dies who is not a dependant. Here, Acas says: “Many employers do have a policy for compassionate leave, which employees can find in their contracts or company handbooks. Experts maintain that writing paid compassionate bereavement leave into a contract can be a major support to employees, and have a long-term positive impact on their relationship with employers. Having a scheme in place is also helpful for managers, who can fall back on written policy and are spared the ordeal of having to assess the seriousness of the situation themselves.

“Without such a scheme, it is up to employers to use their discretion, being as reasonable and as consistent as possible. Managers will have to have an eye on what the custom and practice has been in the past and apply precedents fairly and consistently. Even so, employees cannot expect to be granted leave automatically. When leave isn’t granted, they may have to use their holiday allowance.”

Workplace Report survey

A Workplace Report survey of bereavement and compassionate leave agreements in unionised workplaces shows that employers and unions have been united in dealing with grief.

The survey found that the median amount of bereavement leave is five days in both public and private sectors, but at the top end of the scale the entitlement is 10 days.

Some of the policies are called bereavement leave, while in other cases bereavement is covered by broader compassionate leave policies and so cover circumstances other than bereavement.

There is only enough space in the two tables to set out examples of some best practice in both the public and private sectors among the many agreements featured on Labour Research Department’s Payline database.

Table 1 shows 12 agreements in the private sector where the entitlement is five days or more.

Table 1: Bereavement leave in private sector

Agreement Days Details
Age UK 10 Between 2-10 days bereavement leave for immediate family which includes: spouse/partner, parent; legal guardian; brother; sister; child’s spouse; grandchild; grandparents; in-laws; step-relatives and a person living in the same household as the member of staff other than tenant, lodger or boarder.
Amnesty International UK 10 Where the deceased is an immediate relative, dependent or partner of an employee. Staff may take up to 10 days’ paid leave and 10 days’ unpaid compassionate leave during the course of any one year.
Asda Distribution 10 Up to two weeks’ paid leave for a close relative. Additional time can be granted paid or unpaid.
Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) 10 On the death of immediate relatives such as parents, spouse, partner and children or guardians up to 10 days’ paid leave may be taken. A further two weeks’ paid leave may be taken at the discretion of executive director.
Fox’s Biscuits (Northern Foods) 10 Spouse/partner/child/parent. Leave granted to employees with fewer than six months’ service will be at the discretion of the HR manager/officer.
HJ Heinz 10 Up to two weeks’ paid leave in the event of the death of husband, wife, partner, child, parent, sibling, step-parents and stepchildren.
Media Wales (Trinity Mirror) 10 For parents, spouse, children or siblings (including step-parents, close in-laws) the provision is three to 10 days depending on circumstances.
Morrisons 10 Up to two weeks’ paid leave for immediate family members. Immediate family (parent, spouse, cohabiting partner, civil partner, child, sibling, grandchild, guardian) two weeks time off.
Unilever Trafford Park 10 Two weeks’ paid leave on death of spouse, parent, sibling or child. Won as part of pay deal in 2005.
Eaton Electric 7 Seven days’ paid leave for death of husband/wife/partner, son/daughter, stepson/stepdaughter, mother/father, mother/father-in-law.
Newcastle Building Society 6 Standard six days for parent or guardian including day of funeral. Spouse, partner and child have been omitted as it is appreciated that bereavement in such cases will require special consideration.
Fillcare 5 Employees bereaved by the death of ... a close family member i.e. spouse/partner, parent, sibling or child, will at the discretion of their Line Manager be allowed reasonable paid leave, not exceeding five days. Extensions will be considered on an individual basis and may be granted at the discretion of the Managing Director. Sympathetic consideration will also be given in other circumstances, such as grandparents or other close relatives.

Private sector agreements covering compassionate that give less than median five days include HSBC Bank, where leave is granted at management’s discretion. That is also the case at UK Life Services (Diligentia) where the leave can be be paid or upaid.

Table 2, covering public sector agreements, shows a range of agreements for the median five days or more. In addition, there were seven more agreements in local government, further education colleges and one fire authority that give 10 days’ leave that had to be omitted for space reasons. And a further 26 public sector agreements on compassionate leave had to be omitted even though the entitlement was 5-8 days.

Table 2: Bereavement leave in public sector

Agreement Days Details
Central College, Nottingham 10 Employees are eligible to receive up to 10 days’ paid bereavement leave (inclusive of the funeral) on the death of a close relative or immediate family member. Exceptionally, this paid leave may be extended.
Driving Standards Agency 10 Up to 10 days’ special leave with pay may be granted upon the death of a partner, whether or not the member of staff is organising the funeral. These days may be taken at different times and deferred for up to three months.
London Borough of Hounslow 10 Employees are entitled to request up to two working weeks’ paid leave in connection with the death of a spouse, civil partner, partner, parent or child.
London firefighters 10 Up to 10 days in any year. Distinction is made between “death” and “funeral” but no amounts of time are specified other than the overall limit of 10 days a year for special leave (this covers other types of special leave including serious illness of partner or relative).
Runshaw College 10 Up to 10 days in any one year. The amount of leave granted and whether this is paid or unpaid will be at the discretion of the College. The usual leave granted for the funeral of a close relative is one day for the funeral and up to three days to make funeral arrangements. Bereavement counselling also offered.
Fylde Borough Council 8 Managers are allowed the discretion to authorise up to one month Compassionate Special Leave (of which a maximum of eight days will be paid leave) for bereavement of a close/immediate relative. Any extension to this must be authorised by the Director. The Director has discretion to extend the period in exceptional circumstances, but this will be unpaid.
Durham Police Staff 6 For a member of immediate family up to six days.
East Berkshire College 6 In the event of a death involving an immediate relative (normally defined as spouse, partner, child, parent or sibling of the employee) up to five days’ special paid leave may be granted. This is available to all staff regardless of length of employment. Further leave may be granted at the discretion of the manager. An additional day’s paid leave will be granted to attend a funeral.
North Warwickshire & Hinckley College 6 Five days plus one day to attend the funeral. Can be granted following the death of parent, sibling, spouse/partner or child.
Stratford-upon-Avon College 6 Following the death of a close relative, partner or dependant; not more than five working days for arrangements and one day for the funeral.
Telford College 6 Five days compassionate for death of close relative; plus one day for the funeral.
Aberdeen University 5 For close relation — spouse/parent/sibling/child. If insufficient, further time off (either paid or unpaid) discretionary. Close relation includes partner (including same sex partner).
Bexley College 5 Up to two days with pay for death and another day for a funeral up to a total of five days with pay at discretion of Deputy Director. Immediate family to include partner, parent, child, sibling, but discretion to include a resident relative or close friend.
Bolton College 5 Requests for compassionate/special leave will not be approved automatically. Each request will be considered on an individual basis. Leave may be approved with or without pay, or as a combination of both. However, the College will not refuse a reasonable request. But policy also says bereavement of near relative — mother, father, husband, wife, partner, child, sibling or another person who by reason of special circumstances of a particular case is considered to be a close relative of the employee.
Bolton University 5 Compassionate leave without loss of pay will be granted to a member of staff following the death of a parent or guardian or immediate member of the family. A period of up to five days is allowed.
Brooklands College 5 Employees are eligible for up to a maximum of five days’ paid leave in any year on a rolling 12-month basis.

Members of unions that subscribe to Payline can access information on all the agreements.

Which family members can one take leave for?

In the agreements, whether they cover bereavement or compassionate leave, the definition of “relative” or “family member” varies quite considerably between agreements (setting aside those agreements which do not contain any definition, but simply use one or other term).

Some agreements, such as Age UK, produce fairly exhaustive lists of relatives and may guard against omissions by a phrase such as “and others” for those deemed to be covered. On the other hand, there are others where the list is both short and clearly not open to extension.

Agreements may have more than one level of bereavement leave provision, with higher levels of leave for closer relations. However, some distinguish where the employee is responsible for making funeral arrangements and reference may also be made to travelling times to funerals.

Managerial discretion

Many agreements leave some of this to the discretion of the line manager, but this was reported to be the source of problems in some workplaces with “erratic” application of discretion. The more comprehensive agreements include guidelines for managers or directors to try to deal with this, setting out the criteria to be considered in making a decision.

Is leave entitlement "per annum"

A strange issue, which is treated in different ways in different agreements, is whether the provision should be “per event” or “per annum”. It might seem obvious that bereavement, in particular, should be “per event”, but some agreements make clear that the provision is for a year — in some cases a rolling year, such as at Brooklands College.

Given that the employee has no influence over such events, the notion that they would be denied leave because they were unfortunate as to suffer two bereavements in one year seems difficult to fathom.

Length of service

Most agreements do not limit the provision on the basis of length of service, but a small number indicate that new starters may not qualify.

When can leave be taken?

In a handful of cases, there is provision for bereavement leave to be taken over a period, this is rare and most agreements that specify it make clear that the leave must be taken at the time.

Other agreements specify that the leave will be from the person’s death until their funeral, although most agreements are not so prescriptive.

One factor to take into consideration is different religious practices, which can result in the gap between a person’s death and their funeral varying quite markedly. In Judaism for example, burial takes place as soon as possible after death. And in Islam, orthodox belief mandates burial within 24 hours. However, in other religions the time element is less pressing.

Travelling to funerals

Many agreements address issues around the distance to be travelled to a funeral. For example, workers in the Eddie Stobart warehouse have an agreement which states that “three days’ leave with full pay can be granted for a bereavement in the immediate family. A further one day can be granted to arrange the funeral and another one day if you have to travel more than 100 miles. The period of paid bereavement leave however may be increased up to five days dependent on individual circumstances.”

At the London Borough of Havering, the agreement includes the formula: “One day with pay for grandparent or any other close relative. But if funeral necessitates a journey of over half a day up to two additional days with pay may be granted for travel.”

At City of Westminster College, “staff may be allowed up to three days’ paid leave as a result of serious illness or the death of a close relative. Close relative is defined as spouse/partner, children, siblings, parents and grandparents.

“Staff attending funerals may be granted one day with pay. If the funeral takes place more than half a day’s journey away then up to three days pay may be granted. If the funeral takes place abroad (long haul flight of seven hours or more) then up to five days with pay may be granted.”

Campaign for paid statutory bereavement leave

Workplace Report’s findings can help inform the debate over bereavement leave, which has recently been revived.

There have been calls for a change in the law so that workers have a statutory right to time off for a bereavement, including demands from the National Bereavement Alliance and the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC), which is an umbrella charity for all those involved in palliative, end of life and hospice care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The NCPC’s report, Life after death, found that that the vast majority of people (87%) felt all employers should have a “compassionate employment policy”, including paid bereavement leave, flexible working and other support. And a similar large proportion of people (81%) agreed that there should be a legal right to receive paid bereavement leave.

“The costs of bereavement are too great to ignore, both for individuals and for society,” said Eve Richardson, chief executive of the NCPC. “Employers have an important role to play by being compassionate and having a bereavement policy in place.

“It is also often the little things that matter and help make a difference, such as kind words from a manager or a card to say we are thinking of you.”

The construction workers’ union UCATT has supported this call stating that the lack of statutory bereavement leave is a major issue for construction workers. It points out that industry’s employers often have “unenlightened bereavement policies”.

General secretary Steve Murphy said “Statutory bereavement leave is urgently needed. Workers who lose a loved one are deeply traumatised, often in shock and are grieving. To refuse them bereavement leave is a simple case of penny-pinching and an entirely false economy.”

Govermnment rejects rights for bereaved parents

There were two separate legislative proposals on bereavement leave, one each from the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The initiative in the House of Commons was a private members’ Bill, Parental Bereavement Leave (Statutory Entitlement) Bill 2013-14, sponsored by the Labour MP for Glasgow South, Tom Harris. The Bill had its first reading last September and its second reading was scheduled for 28 February. However, Harris withdrew the Bill after prime minister David Cameron made clear in a letter to the MP that the government wouldn’t support it.

In the Lords, the issue is being pursued by a Labour peer, Lord Knight of Weymouth, who has tabled an amendment to the Children and Families Bill to give parents a right to take two weeks’ paid leave in the event of the death of their child.

This initiative also looks set to fail as the coalition has made clear its opposition,despite widespread support for the right to be introduced. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has described the proposals as “not feasible”.