The conciliation service Acas has recently published a new guide on managing bereavement in the workplace.

It is estimated that one in ten people is directly affected by bereavement and research has found that a third of employees who had suffered bereavement in the past five years felt that they had not been treated with compassion by their employer. According to Acas, nearly nine out ten people believed all employers should have a compassionate employment policy that included paid bereavement leave.

The good practice guide advises employers to:

  • Have a clear policy in which managers, HR teams and selected staff are trained so that they can have compassionate conversations with bereaved colleagues
  • Ensure that trade unions are involved in developing the policy
  • Offer part-time hours or flexible working to support and retain the employee and minimise sick days as they negotiate new or increased caring responsibilities
  • Begin a dialogue with the employee, asking how they would like to stay in contact but without pressurising them into making decisions at that point
  • Ask how much information they want their co-workers to have about the death and remember that this information is private under data protection legislation
  • Ask if the employee wishes to be contacted by colleagues
  • Be conscious of diversity within the workforce and the impact this may have on, for example, days taken to allow the employee to fulfil religious or cultural expectations such as mourning rituals
  • Be open to revising and reviewing the situation with the employee.

Currently the law gives employees the right to “reasonable” time off work (which is not further defined) to deal with an emergency, which could include a bereavement involving a dependant. Employers do not have to pay an employee for this time away from work but many employers offer paid special or compassionate leave as part of their contract. Employers also have a duty of care to employees generally and should take into account the effect bereavement might have on the employee in undertaking their duties.

Neil Todd at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “The new guidance from Acas is to be welcomed. The work it has done shows the vast majority of people believe employers should provide paid bereavement leave and serious thought should now be given to introducing legislation to give effect to that.”

To read the guide in full, go to: http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/0/m/Managing-bereavement-in-the-workplace-a-good-practice-guide.pdf