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How should your employer behave when you lose a loved one?

PUBLISHED: 15:12 23 October 2019 | UPDATED: 15:12 23 October 2019

Young desperate couple holding hands at psychologist reception close up. Husband touching support, understanding, care wife. Overcoming difficulties problems, attempt to save marriage, confess

Young desperate couple holding hands at psychologist reception close up. Husband touching support, understanding, care wife. Overcoming difficulties problems, attempt to save marriage, confess

Experts are warning businesses a 'one size fits all' approach to dealing with grieving employees is simply not good enough.

Vanessa Bell, head of employment law at Ipswich’s Prettys law firm. Photo: Prettys/Stillview.Vanessa Bell, head of employment law at Ipswich’s Prettys law firm. Photo: Prettys/Stillview.

While there is limited legislation surrounding staff needing compassionate leave in the aftermath of a bereavement, employers should be handling every situation individually in a sympathetic way.

"Dealing with the loss of a loved, be it a family member, friend or colleague, is a tragic circumstance and employers need to understand that people can be affected in many different ways", explained Vanessa Bell, employment partner at Ipswich law firm Prettys.

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The Employment Rights Act 1996 gives an employee the right to have "reasonable" time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant.

However, in circumstances involving a bereavement, this statutory right to unpaid "reasonable" leave only applies to enable an employee to deal with logistical matters which arise as a result of a death, such as arranging and attending a funeral. It is not a right to compassionate leave.

Ms Bell suggests that employers have in place a clear bereavement leave policy in their staff handbooks.

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"The policy should outline what is to be expected from both sides, considering issues such as leave duration, pay and return to work support if possible," she said.

"In many cases, employers will still pay staff for their time off during grieving periods. While that is at their discretion, we suggest there should be consistency and that it is outlined in the policy for employees to follow." "Other potential legal issues arise if an employee experiences mental health difficulties as a consequence of bereavement.

"If a member of staff suffers with anxiety or depression as a result, then this could potentially be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010, which then places employers under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to remove workplace barriers.

"The Equality Act also protects employees from discrimination because of their religion or belief. Many religions have bereavement requirements, for example, mourning periods.

"Employers need to try and accommodate religious beliefs and customs where reasonable to do so. This may include an employee requesting a period of leave to travel abroad to attend a funeral."

"In our experience, issues tend to arise where communications breakdown and an employee has not properly explained to their employer why they may need additional leave following a bereavement or if they are struggling with a return to the workplace.

"We would advise that if an employee is open with their employer as to any support that may be needed, the employer is then better placed to provide the support required."

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