Taking care of a dying relative is a distressing time for everyone particularly when you couple that with trying to juggle a job and getting paid at the same time.
While each employee will undoubtedly have their own way of dealing with grief, it is important for employers to give them the right support to help them through the difficult times and allow them the time off that they are entitled to in order to come to terms with the heartache.
Despite this, it has been alleged that Amazon recently fired a part-time worker for spending an hour more than her allocated time off to be with a dying relative – The Daily Mail reported.
The publication reported that the employee who has been referred to as Sandra, was in the throes of completing a night-time shift at a warehouse in Sacramento, when she received the news that a family member had been put on life support.
Her line manager gave her permission to leave work early to go to the hospital but over the next few days, her relatives’ condition worsened so Sandra asked to take a couple more days off. The relative then died not long after which resulted in Sandra asking for bereavement leave again – The Verge reported.
The e-commerce behemoth is said to offer three days of bereavement leave though Sandra had used up her allotted time off.
She explained: “I felt like I was in The Twilight Zone.
“I’m dealing with a death in my family, and I’m going to lose my job over one hour?”
The Daily Mail reported that part-time workers are given 20 hours of unpaid time off every quarter, and those who go over that alloted time are considered to have "gone negative".
It later turned out that Sandra owed the company an hour and after going back into work she was let go.
Angry colleagues started a petition called Amazonians United Sacramento demanding for Sandra to be re-assigned with back pay, as well as granting paid time off for part-time workers.
Responding to a request about the petition Amazon told The Daily Mail: "Amazon maintains an open-door policy that encourages employees to bring their comments, questions, and concerns directly to their management team for discussion and resolution.
"We have a long standing policy of not commenting on personnel matters."
After it was submitted, Sandra was re-hired.
Managing bereavement at work – whether this is physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological grief – can impact the wellbeing of an employee which makes it a core consideration for HR.
Acas explained that bereavement can be difficult to manage, particularly because employees may need to take time off suddenly, therefore having a compassionate and supportive approach demonstrates that the organisation cares for and values employees.
How long should bereavement leave be?
According to TotalJobs, there is no set length of leave which workers have to be given, though Gov.uk does suggest that one or two days should be enough and any more is at the employer’s discretion. Employment law specialist Leanne Thomas told TotalJobs:
“Typically bereavement leave is about three to five days long, but all organisations will have different policies and/or exercise their discretion differently."
“The focus should be on ensuring that workers are given sufficient time to come to terms with their loss without granting extensive leave which may have the undesired effect of stirring up feelings of loneliness and isolation in the recently bereaved.”
How HR can support grieving employees
Understanding how the grieving process works should be HR’s first port of call. Benenden reported on the five stages of grief which include: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance which is a resource for HR to be aware of. Though, grief is not a linear process so HR should handle cases on an individual basis.
For many grieving employees, work may be viewed as a type of escapism and a time for them to separate themselves from the anguish in their personal life. Therefore, offering grief-stricken employees as much time off as possible may not be the best coping mechanism for them. So, ask them what they want because it may be that sticking to daily work routines act as a much-need anchor.
Giving employees access to a range of resources can help them come to terms with grief. So, having 24/7 helplines that they can call or offering professional therapist sessions can help them overcome their grief.