Bereavement Leave – how do we handle this in the workplace?

I read an article on bereavement, that Alice Murray recently wrote an article on in the Irish Independent and felt that it was something worth taking notice of:  

“Grief is an indescribable pain. Only people who have felt the jagged shock of it slice through them will understand just how horrendous it can be.

Self care, exercise and even personal hygiene are swept aside in the torrent of emotions.Suddenly the simplest tasks like finding a matching sock, completing a shopping list or even brushing your hair can require a Trojan effort.

Suddenly the simplest tasks like finding a matching sock, completing a shopping list or even brushing your hair can require a Trojan effort.

It’s one of the toughest human experiences that we have to endure, yet, there is still no legal requirement for Irish companies to provide their employees with bereavement leave.

For a nation that handles death so well (Irish wakes are praised the world over) we still don’t handle what comes next with any great compassion or understanding.

When a colleague returns to work after a death, the office falls quiet. No one wants to say the wrong thing, so, in turn they decide to say nothing. We ignore the emotional issue and hope that it goes away.

And that’s exactly what we’re doing by not legally enforcing paid bereavement leave for the people of Ireland. We’re avoiding what is a hard and painful topic. It’s simply not good enough.

Thankfully, some companies have compassionate bereavement leave policies in place already.

Last year, Facebook announced that it had extended its bereavement policy. Doubling its leave, Facebook now offers up to 20 paid days off for employees who have lost an immediate family member or 10 days of leave for an extended family member.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, who lost her husband in 2015, wholeheartedly supports the measure. In a Facebook post last year she outlined why.

“Amid the nightmare of Dave’s death when my kids needed me more than ever, I was grateful every day to work for a company that provides bereavement leave and flexibility,” she wrote. “I needed both to start my recovery. I know how rare that is, and I believe strongly that it shouldn’t be. People should be able to work and be there for their families.”

However, we all can’t work at Facebook. What about the people that work in the local café or bank? Is their grief any less real?”

Statutory bereavement leave is common across Europe and around the world; however bereavement leave in Ireland is a discretionary leave, and here is no statutory obligation to provide it.

Many companies do offer up to three days paid leave for the death of close family members, and some companies provide more than this.

A close family member is usually defined as a spouse or civil partner, daughter, son, parent, sister or brother and may include grandparents or in laws.

In the event of death of grandparents, in laws, aunt or uncle one day may be granted.

Any leave the employee will be entitled to will generally depend on what is set out in their Contract of Employment or Employee Handbook. However, leave can also be determined by what is deemed to be custom and practice within the Company.  If employees have been given additional paid time off for bereavement in the past, it will be considered unfair not to give this time off to another employee, so the policy the Company has in place on Bereavement Leave should be applied consistently.

I would advise all companies to a have a policy on bereavement leave in place and have it outlined in the employee handbook.  

We all do not handle grief in the same manner, and employees need to be supported at this time.  From an employer point of view, bereavement leave makes good business sense.  An employer that wants to build staff morale, build employee engagement, promote workplace wellness and earn staff loyalty has got to put their staff first so they can garner rewards later.

Common Areas of Complaints Employees Claim

The most common complaints that employees take claims for are:

unfair dismissal

  • Unfair dismissal (including constructive dismissal)
  • Redundancy claims-not being paid for redundancy or being unfairly selected for redundancy
  • No statement of terms of employment/no contract
  • Non-payment of wages-this includes unlawful deductions from your wages and late or non-payment
  • Breaches of working time legislation and not giving the proper, or any, rest breaks, or the correct annual leave/holidays
  • Not giving the proper notice when terminating the employment
  • Being bullied and/or harassed in the workplace-either by the employer or fellow employees
  • Being sexually harassed at work- employees are entitled to protection not just from the employer and employees but customers/clients too
  • Changes to the employment contract without employees consent
  • Reductions in wages or hours of work without employees consent
  • Breaches of the data protection rights in relation to employees personal data
  • Refusal of statutory leave entitlement
  • Failure to give a contract of indefinite duration when an employee is entitled to one after 2 or more fixed term contracts
  • Failure to provide a safe place or method of work in breach of health and safety obligations
  • Ignoring an employee’s rights and entitlements under TUPE (transfer of undertakings) legislation
  • Unfair disciplinary procedures and warnings on individual’s employment record
  • Treating part-time employees less favourably than full time employees
  • Asking an employee to work longer hours than is permitted
  • Not giving employee’s entitlements to maternity and/or parental leave and/or force majeure leave and/or adoptive leave
  • Failing to deal properly and fairly when an employee suffers a personal injury at work
  • Treating an employee unfairly when they are sick

If you are worried about successful claims against you or if you want to ensure that you have your house in order, and have a HR Audit carried out, please call Mary on 086 8225448 or email mryan@righthandhr.ieSituations can easily develop into costly messes rather than being nipped in the bud.

The Benefits of Workplace Mediation

It is advised that Mediation is voluntary – and anything else is undermining the values of mediation and somehow seen as almost disrespectful of people’s rights. I disagree. And I’ll explain why.
Reason 1: Workplace mediation is different from other types of mediation
Workplace mediation ‘came over’ from community and family mediation, where the roles and responsibilities of parties to a dispute are very unlike. I believe that what is right for two families living side by side, may not be right for two colleagues working, under a contract, for the same organisation.
The employer expects employees to be grown up, responsible and accountable – and these values are clear and for part of the psychological contract. So why do employers support irresponsibility, and a lack of accountability, when it comes to people in conflict? I simply do not understand this. Are your values serious, or are they window-dressing? Asking a person with a conflict to meet a skilled, trained mediator, for a private conversation, is surely not unreasonable?
Reason 2: We need to help, not to collude with, the person with the conflict
I know absolutely the horror of being asked to ‘sit down and have an honest conversation’ with someone I currently do not respect or am angry with. And it is this state, of being in a conflict, that puts us in exactly the frame of mind to avoid talking. When we are in a conflict, we do not make wise judgements for ourselves, and we often choose the path with the poorer outcome – litigation or formal action. In a real sense, when we are in a conflict we are our own worst enemy. To not make mediation mandatory is to collude with someone who has an illness which is treatable, but whose very symptoms include a passionate rejection of the cure they are being advised to take. Expecting someone to talk to a mediator simply gives that person a chance to be listened to, and empathised with; and very probably they will then feel able to take the next step and meet the other person in a joint mediation.
Reason 3: The numbers makes sense
Let us say there are 1000 disputing parties at work in UK plc who are, variously, off with stress, underperforming, taking up HR and managerial time, making poor work decisions – all because they are avoiding the ‘enemy’ with whom they need to consult. Colleagues are fed up with the situation but feel powerless to intervene and the rumour mill is distracting everyone from getting on with what they are paid to do. HR is bracing itself for a formal complaint, or simply wishing one would arrive on their desks so at least they can get moving on sorting this out.
Let us say (rather optimistically) that HR manage to persuade 10 per cent of these people to try mediation “voluntarily”. Of these, 9 mediations end in agreement; a 90% ‘success’ rate. UK plc now has ninety people who as a result of mediation feel able to go back to fully productive lives at work, and 10 people who still have a conflict despite a mediation, but are perhaps clearer about what they need to do to resolve the matter.
But there are still 900 people still in dispute and under performing. What is to be done with them? Very little, if they don’t make a formal complaint that can bring an end to the matter, albeit a win-lose end.
So UK plc does the right thing and introduces mandatory mediation – by which I mean that it makes clear employees are expected and required to attempt to resolve their conflicts through mediation in the first instance. It takes away none of their rights, they are not obliged to reach agreement, they are not obliged to even actively engage. What they are obliged to do is initially meet a mediator privately and take part in a joint meeting which they may or may not wish to engage in fully, it doesn’t matter.
And let’s say that this approach reduces “success” levels by a whopping 50 per cent. (I don’t believe it would be this low, as resistance to mediation is simply a “position”, and like all positions can be explored and ‘overcome’ and a new way of meeting that person’s needs arrived at.)
So 1000 disputing parties take part in mediation, and only 45 per cent reach agreement. This represents 450 people who can go back to productive working, innumerable teams who breath a collective sigh of relief that it’s all sorted out, HR staff who can move on to other matters – the collateral from a successful mediation is extensive. The number of people who now have a dispute in UK plc has gone down by over 60% from 900 to 550. Surely this is a positive outcome?

Source – CMP Resolution Blog by Lesley Allport and Katherine Graham.