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.