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Why organisations need to increase bereavement leave and pay

It was a great achievement when Jack’s Law became legislation in April 2020 which meant that companies had a legal obligation to offer paid bereavement leave for working parents who lose a child under the age of 18 which became the first government initiative to highlight the issue of bereavement in the workplace.


Now, I’m pleased to learn that the CIPD (the professional body for HR) is calling on the Government to introduce the right to bereavement leave and pay to all employees experiencing a close family bereavement.


It would mean that employees who experience the loss of any close family member – including a child, parent, partner or sibling, whether by blood, adoption or through marriage/a partner – would have the right to two weeks’ leave or paid leave from work. Aside from Jack’s Law, compassionate leave is discretionary as there is currently no legal requirement for employers to pay employees who take leave following the death of a close family member. While employees have the right to ‘reasonable’ time off work to deal with emergencies involving dependants, the legislation does not state how much time can be taken which means that compassionate leave can vary widely across organisations.

I was delighted to be asked by People Management magazine (a top publication for HR professionals) for my opinion and comment. Excerpt below:


“Outside of Jack’s Law, there are currently no legal requirements for employers to pay employees who take leave following the death of a close family member. Instead, most employers adhere to Acas guidance, which states that ‘reasonable’ time off is two days in the immediate aftermath of a death. However, Julia Sinclair-Brown, director, trainer and coach at Evolvida, highlighted that this is at the employer’s discretion and “often isn’t adequate”.

Sinclair-Brown added that while she supported Jack’s Law as a “step in the right direction”, she firmly believed it should be extended to all close family members – noting that it might be discriminatory against those who don’t have children. 


“I can say from personal and professional experience that grief is unique for everyone and Jack’s Law seemed to put a measurement on the fact that child loss was the worst loss to be faced – in some ways saying that other close family relationships are less painful,” she said.

Sinclair-Brown added that while she supported Jack’s Law as a “step in the right direction”, she firmly believed it should be extended to all close family members – noting that it might be discriminatory against those who don’t have children. 


“I can say from personal and professional experience that grief is unique for everyone and Jack’s Law seemed to put a measurement on the fact that child loss was the worst loss to be faced – in some ways saying that other close family relationships are less painful,” she said.


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Since coronavirus, research from Co-op Funerals have claimed that we could be heading for a grief pandemic since people have been unable to spend the last critical few days/moments with their loved ones and in many cases, have been unable to attend funerals which are an important grieving ritual. That makes this drive even more necessary.


Further research from the CIPD found that just over half of employees said that they were aware of their employer having a policy or support in place for employees experiencing bereavement, while many were not. Yet we know that bereavement can have a major impact on a person’s mental health and wellbeing. Therefore, organisations risk adding work-related stress to what is already a difficult situation if they do not make it clear to employees the bereavement policies that are in place and the support services available to them.  


Claire McCartney, from the CIPD who echoes my thoughts says: 


“Losing a family member, partner or friend can have a devastating impact on a person’s mental health and wellbeing and employees experiencing bereavement need to be treated with compassion and support in the workplace. Most people have experienced bereavement at some point, and sadly in the UK tens of thousands of people have died as a result of COVID-19 this year …. It is vital for organisations to properly support those who are experiencing grief and loss by developing policies that offer long-term support and to ensure that line managers are equipped to support bereaved employees. Grief is neither linear nor predictable so employers must also recognise individual circumstances …. bereaved employees are highly unlikely to be able to perform well at work if they are forced to return too quickly.” 


The CIPD has just launched new guidance for employers on compassionate and comprehensive bereavement support. It encourages employers to develop a bereavement policy, to empower managers to support employees, put in place flexible working practices to best support employee needs, and provide information to employees on workplace support for bereavement.



It’s too bad that it’s taken coronavirus to highlight this topic, but nevertheless, it’s a fantastic step forward and I hope that many organisations are behind this push to ensure all bereaved employees are treated equally and fairly.

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