How to address money worries following the death of a loved one
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Compassionate leave is agreed time off work for people who find themselves in an unexpected, difficult circumstance, which may prevent them from carrying out their job effectually. This includes time off for a bereavement.
The Employment Rights Act 1996, which is applicable to England, Wales & Scotland, entitles all workers to reasonable time off for an emergency involving a dependent.
Reasonable time off generally refers to the time required to address practical matters following a death, such as arranging a funeral. UK law does not stipulate precisely how much ‘time off’ should be granted. A common amount given is 2 to 5 days, and time to grieve is typically not accounted for. A dependent is defined as anyone who reasonably relies on you for help in an emergency.
However, ultimately, the amount of time off granted is at the discretion of your employer and will vary from company to company. There are likely many factors your employer will take into consideration, such as how much time other employees have been approved in similar circumstances and your relation to the person that died. Most companies should have a documented compassionate leave policy, detailed either in your employment contract or a staff handbook.
In the UK, we tend to use the term compassionate leave and bereavement leave interchangeably. However, bereavement leave refers specifically to taking time off following the death of a loved one. Alternatively, compassionate leave is a broader term and can be offered when you need time off to look after a sick relative or dependent. Their illness or injury does not necessarily have to be life threatening. In the UK, there is no such thing as statutory bereavement leave and employers are not legally obliged to offer it. This is a contentious issue and something that is often debated.
Employers are not legally obliged to offer paid compassionate leave; however, some may choose to.
Many people find meeting their employer face to face early on useful and try to have your contract (or document which details a compassionate leave policy) to hand. Unlike requesting time off via an email or letter, meeting face to face leaves little room for ambiguity. If there is any uncertainty around your compassionate leave entitlement, this presents an opportunity to ask for clarification. If your employer suggests you “take as much time as you need”, this is a very general statement it’s usually sensible to ask for specifics with regards to time off. This will help manage your expectations and your employers.
If your company has a compassionate leave policy the correct procedure for employees/employers to adhere to should be documented here. It may be the case that, yes, some employers ask for evidence of the reason an employee is taking this leave (i.e. an obituary or funeral notice).
Compassionate leave entitlement is a statutory right. However, it is up to the employer how much additional time off they grant you (above and beyond the emergency time off they must give you). It’s highly unlikely your employer will refuse you statutory compassionate leave. In the event that they do, you should seek advice from your trade union, citizens advice or ACAS. You can also complain to an employment tribunal.
Be honest with your employer. If you are struggling and need longer to deal with your grief, then request that your compassionate leave is extended. They might agree to this but be prepared for the fact that this time could be unpaid.
Plus, while bereavement itself doesn’t count as an illness, the depression and anxiety that it triggers for many people can be considered so. Therefore, you might be entitled to statutory or occupational sick pay.