Bereavement Leave: why is it important, and what does it mean for companies?

Tanya Pinto
Bereavement Leave: why is it important, and what does it mean for companies?

If you’re an employer who values the importance of encouraging work-life balance, we have a question for you. We’re sure you have a wonderful leave policy for employees who want time off to care for a newborn or travel to their dream destination. However, does your company offer the much-needed bereavement leave, for employees who are mourning the loss of a loved one? 

If you’re curious to know more, this article explains all you need to know about the importance of bereavement leave to maintain employee productivity. 

What is bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave is sanctioned time off that employees can take, following the death of a dependant. This is offered with the goal of helping the employee to emotionally recover before coming back to work. Why should you chalk out a bereavement leave policy? According to research by TalentSmart, the ability to manage your emotions and mental stress has a direct link to your performance. As a Forbes publication stated, taking time off to disconnect from work is effective in coping with mental stress. It’s clear that a grieving employee will not be able to achieve optimal performance. Thus, the best way to regain productivity is to allow the employee the time off he or she needs to grieve the loss of a loved one’s life. 

Why is there a debate around bereavement leave?

Companies must decide who qualifies: When it comes to maternity/ paternity leave, it’s quite simple: the parents of the child are eligible to apply. However, bereavement leave is slightly more complex. How does one decide when  employees should be allowed to take time off to mourn someone’s death? The straightforward answer would be to cover the employee’s immediate family: parents, partner and children. However, what if an employee is deeply impacted by the death of a close friend or pet? Shouldn’t that be recognised too? This is one of the main challenges of implementing bereavement leave: how to decide when it’s fair for an employee to use it. This is an issue which can be resolved on a case-to-case approach, where the manager should use their  discretion to sanction the leave. 

There are already too many leave opportunities: Some employers complain that there are already too many opportunities for employees to take time off, and bereavement leave adds on like an impediment to business productivity. However, if mourning  employees use their sick days to stay away from work, it makes far greater sense to offer staff bereavement leave straight away. By offering this alternative,  it demonstrates empathy from the company, and that the employee’s wellbeing is of the utmost importance. Indeed, employees will remember and be touched by the kindness of a manager during a hard time, just as much as they would remember the hassle of having to ask for leave in an already difficult time. 

It’s too ‘subjective’: The issue with the qualifying criteria for bereavement leave, is that it could be too subjective. Also, the ideal duration of bereavement leave is not easy to establish. It’s widely assumed that the loss of a dependant would be the obvious reason of availing bereavement leave, but employees who’ve lost a dear pet or close friend would be grieving too. Additionally, while one employee may bounce back after a few days off, another may need a couple of months. While some would prefer to work remotely to help manage the mental trauma, others might want to completely disconnect from work. The question is – how to decide which employee should be allowed to go on bereavement leave and for how long? Employment lawyer Sharon Auld tells the BBC, “How many days, who is included? It’s so subjective, how can you put the timings on it?” She does acknowledge that many employers are compassionate enough to offer an employee bereavement leave. However, with a lack of proper legislation, several vulnerable employees could be left in the lurch. 

The key is offering a flexible bereavement leave policy

There are several debates surrounding the technicalities of bereavement leave, but it  cannot be denied: it’s an important aspect in  letting employees knows you care. With most workers spending more time at the workplace than at home, it’s more vital than ever that companies respect their employees’ personal life and wellbeing.  

The most efficient way to implement this, would be to design a bereavement leave policy that suits your company best. Additionally, it shouldn’t merely be a single, blanket approach of two weeks off. Although this may be helpful for some, it may not benefit others. Instead,   it’s best to adopt a flexible leave policy which offers a range of different choice to grieving employees: time off from work, remote working or fewer hours in office. The key is let the employees decide the option they  prefer. 

Let’s not forget that employees are human too. Employees are inevitably affected by the emotional upheaval caused by the loss of a family member, and while it’s up to each company to decide the qualifying criteria to approve bereavement leave, it’s a definite must-have in today’s workplace.  After all, put yourself in their position. A  little empathy can go a long way.



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