Acas has published advice to help employers handle bereavement that has impacted staff, and to ensure that they understand the legal rights of their employees to time off.

It explains that anyone who is an employee (usually someone with a contract of employment) has the legal right to time off following the death of a “dependant”. A “dependant” includes a parent, a partner, a child under 18 and/or someone they live with (apart from tenants or lodgers) or care for.

There's no legal right for the time off to be paid, but some employers do offer paid leave. Employees also have the right to time off for a funeral if the person who died was a dependant. The law does not say how much time can be taken off if a dependant dies, just that the amount should be “reasonable”.

The situation is slightly different if an employee’s child under the age of 18 dies. In those circumstances, there is a right to two weeks’ parental bereavement leave, and an employee may also be eligible for parental bereavement pay. In addition, they have the right to unpaid time off. Anyone classed as a worker (as opposed to an employee) is not entitled to statutory parental bereavement leave, but may be entitled to statutory parental bereavement pay for time they take off.

In the case of a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, the birth mother is entitled to 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave or pay, while the birth father and the partner of the birth mother or adopter can get up to two weeks of paternity leave or pay. They are both also entitled to two weeks’ parental bereavement leave after they finish their maternity or paternity leave. In general, Acas advises employers to:

  • Be sensitive to what each person might need at the time
  • Consider the person's physical and emotional wellbeing, including once they've returned to work
  • Recognise that grief affects everyone differently, there is no right or wrong way to grieve and it can affect people at different times following a death.

Although a helpful guide, the rights to time off and payment remain very basic and as such, many families will experience financial hardship at an already very difficult time. Thompsons joins calls for the government to extend employees’ and workers’ rights in relation to bereavement.

To read the guidance in full, click here.