Pandemic | Should staff receive extra paid bereavement leave?

Should staff receive extra paid bereavement leave?

Due to the increasing number of deaths related to COVID-19, the Government is now facing calls to introduce a minimum of two week’s paid bereavement leave following the death of a close relative of partner.

The coronavirus pandemic has contributed to 83,000 deaths in the UK so far.

According to Sky News, a number of MPs, business leaders and charities are all backing the notion and have asked for “a more compassionate approach”, adding that annual leave is “not appropriate” in cases of bereavement.

However so far, the Government has been reluctant to introduce statutory bereavement leave. Despite this, new measures have previously been put in place if parents lose a child.

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Minsters have claimed that to extend paid leave would cost the public a significant amount, while also placing extra pressure on employers during a time that is already concerning and uncertain.

Despite this, Sue Ryder, a bereavement charity, has shared that grief following the death of a loved one already costs £23billion a year in reduced tax revenues and due to the use of NHS resources.

Heidi Travis, Chief Executive of Sue Ryder, pointed out that bereavement is not a holiday, and that employees who are in lower paid jobs or in less secure employment are more unlikely to take time off to grieve.

Travis continued: “Coronavirus has already led to an increase in bereavement across the UK, devastating thousands of families.

“At this time of national crisis, introducing a more compassionate approach to bereavement leave is paramount.”

Backing a change

Other charities calling for change include the likes of Cruse Bereavement Care, Hospice UK and the Royal College of Physicians. In addition, business leaders such as the UK Head of Siemens and senior MPs are also pledging for new support measures to be put in place.

Siemens’ Carl Ennis told the publication: “As the Government looks to 'build back better', we believe that introducing statutory bereavement leave for an immediate family member or partner is a clear example of a bold, compassionate and caring commitment to UK workers, particularly after the devastating year we had in 2020.”

Should employers offer extended leave?

As there is no legal right to paid bereavement leave other than for a death of a child, it is therefore down to an employer to decide whether they offer such support to staff members. Rebecca Thornley-Gibson, Partner at DMH Stallard, warned that if employers choose not to, they could in fact risk a dip in productivity as workers will be forced to use annual leave or take sickness.

Thornley-Gibson told HR Grapevine: “Employers who don’t provide bereavement leave are likely to see employees using annual leave, taking time off sick or becoming extremely unproductive as they struggle to cope with work demands and a personal crisis.”

If an employer chooses not to offer this form of leave, she explained that employees will need to refer to their workplace policies and rely on statutory unpaid leave provisions.

“If an employer does not have a bereavement or compassionate leave policy the employee will need to rely on the statutory unpaid leave provisions to take time off for emergencies, including death, involving a dependant,” Thornley-Gibson continued.

“That leave however is not expected to be more than two or three days and doesn’t meet the emotional needs that an employee will inevitably have when they lose someone close to them.”

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