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Can an employer deny time off for a funeral?

Can an employer deny time off for a funeral?

The answer to the question ‘can an employer deny time off for a funeral?’ is that it depends on the nature of the relationship between the employee and the person who died. There is only a statutory right to time off for a funeral when the person who died is classified as a ‘dependent.’ This classification includes their spouse (or civil partner), their child, their parent, or a person living in the same household (excluding lodgers), or a person who relies on the employee for assistance. Employers may well choose to be more flexible than the above but that is down to their discretion.

This blog will explore this topic and provide answers to some common questions:

 

Is the right to time off for a funeral the same as compassionate or bereavement leave?

Employers should have policies and procedures relating to bereavement. These policies are often referred to as compassionate leave or bereavement leave. However, compassionate leave is actually different from the statutory right referred to above. The statutory right to time off when a dependent dies is to undertake tasks such as arranging the funeral, whereas compassionate leave may relate to circumstances such as when an employee is too distressed to return to work due to the bereavement, and therefore needs time away from the workplace to assist with their recovery. Where a compassionate leave policy is in place, it is likely to be used when an employee wishes to have time off from work to attend a funeral but does not have a statutory right to do so.

How long is bereavement leave?

The statutory right is to ‘a reasonable amount of time’ to ‘take action which is necessary… in consequence of the death of a dependent.’ As referred to earlier, an example of such action may be to arrange the funeral.  It would be wise for employers to seek advice before deciding what a reasonable length of time is. This is because what is or is not reasonable is likely to depend on the particular circumstances.

As referred to above, although statutory rights to time off for a funeral are limited, it is common for employers to allow time off for a funeral irrespective of the relationship between the person wishing to attend the funeral and the person who has died. Given this discretion, it is particularly important that employers have policies and procedures concerning this sensitive issue. Plotkin & Chandler has expertise in drafting HR documentation, including policies relating to bereavement, which fully reflect the needs of the organisation and ensures that employees are treated fairly.

Employees should look at the organisation’s policies and procedures relating to bereavement as they are likely to reveal what the position is in their particular circumstances.

Is time off for a funeral or bereavement leave paid?

That depends. There is no statutory right to paid time off for a bereavement. An exception to that is where there has been the death of a child. Subject to the relevant conditions being met, Parental Bereavement Pay may apply in such circumstances.

Although there is only a statutory right to paid time off where Parental Bereavement Pay applies, it may well be the case that an employer chooses to pay employees in other circumstances. For example, paying employees when they are taking time off to attend a funeral, or perhaps providing paid compassionate leave. Whatever approach is decided it is important that it fulfils its intended purpose and that employees are treated in a way which is transparent and fair.

The focus of this blog so far has been to answer the question ‘can an employer deny time off for a funeral’ but there is much more to consider than simply the funeral. Bereavement is likely to be an issue that managers find particularly challenging to navigate.  There can be confusion over what to say and do to be supportive, or there may even be a perception that ‘everything should be back to normal after the funeral’. The grieving process simply does not work like that and an expectation that things will shortly ‘return to normal’ is likely to do more harm than good. For example, what if the employee is rushed back to work but simply is not ready? Could the employee cause harm to themselves or others due to being distressed such as when having a job role that involves operating machinery or driving vehicles? What should employers do in such circumstances? How does bereavement impact on performance management?

As well as the HR documentation referred to earlier, Plotkin & Chandler has expertise in providing HR consultancy and training on a range of topics, including bereavement. Our HR training provides answers to the questions above, as well as how to have conversations relating to bereavement, how to spot warning signs and learn what measures can be put in place to improve the situation. If your organisation needs advice and guidance, rather than training, we would be pleased to provide this on a consultancy basis.

If you are an employee who feels unable to cope at work due to a bereavement, or you feel that you have been unfairly dismissed, we would be pleased to discuss your situation and the ways in which we can help.

To get in touch, call us on 020 3923 8616 or email us at info@plotkinandchandler.com

 

 

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