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Employers Guide to Bereavement Leave

Woman looking upset sitting at desk in work office.

Bereavement Leave (also known as Companionate Leave) is when an employee takes time off due to a family member or friend dying. This is something that is often not properly considered for by Irish employers.

According to the Holmes and Rahe scale, the death of a family member is ranked as the number one most stressful life event a person can go through, yet companies in Ireland have no legal obligation to provide employees with paid bereavement leave.

According to the Independent, Irish companies generally offer 3 - 5 days of paid bereavement leave, dependant on the employee's relationship to the person passing. The Irish Hospice Foundation also revealed in a survey that 20% of people said they did not get the support they needed during their most recent bereavement.

In countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, companies are also not legally required to offer paid statutory bereavement leave.

According to United States Department of Labour, 60% of private sector workers in the US get paid time off for bereavement, typically just a few days.

As for the UK, the Employment Rights Act 1996 states that UK employers are obligated to give employees a 'reasonable' number of unpaid days off following the death of a family member, or dependent.

What can the workplace do to improve this?

Since the legislation around bereavement leave remains unchanged, the onus is on the employer to provide support for their employees in the event of a loved one's death.

People deal with bereavement in their own way, and if a workplace doesn't support that journey to recovery it can be harmful to the employee and the workplace.

If you already have a compassionate leave policy ensure your employees know about it, and the entitlements available to them in the unfortunate event of a bereavement.

For example, is the policy only in relation to bereavement or also applicable to a personal/family crisis? Do employees need to be with the company a certain period of time before becoming eligible to leave? Is the leave paid or unpaid and for what period of time? Is the leave only available for certain family members?

In an age where the employment market is more competitive than ever, it's important to show that your business cares about its employees. Having a mindful bereavement leave policy can have an impact on retaining key talent and ensure your employee's wellbeing is adequately looked after.

What are other companies doing?

Some of the world's biggest companies have made big improvements. For example, Facebook's bereavement leave was already twice as long as the minimum standard, but in 2017 they doubled this and extended it from 10 days to 20 day.

The tech giant's Chief People Officer Sheryl Sandberg made the announcement in a Facebook post. This came from her own experience of losing her husband suddenly and the support she was given during that time.

'Starting today, Facebook employees will have up to 20 days paid leave to grieve an immediate family member, up to 10 days to grieve an extended family member and will be able to take up to six weeks of paid leave to care for a sick relative. We're also introducing paid family sick time - three days to take care of a family member with a short-term illness, like a child with the flu.'

Other companies, like Microsoft, followed suit and extended their bereavement leave policy.

Overall, offering bereavement leave that gives your employees enough time to recover from losing somebody is the right thing to do and makes good business sense. It can reflect positively on your employee retention strategy and on your brand, which will, in turn, attract new candidates.

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