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Should paid bereavement leave be a right?

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

10th January 2014 – The government is being urged to make paid bereavement leave a legal right after the death of a close loved one.

A poll carried out for a coalition of charities and care providers suggests 81% of people would support the move.

Currently employees only have the right to 'reasonable' time off without pay to deal with things like funeral arrangements for a dependant relative or dependant person living in the same home.

The employment disputes service Acas says many employers do have policies for compassionate leave written into contracts. If the deceased person is not classed as a dependant, managers may have to use their discretion. When compassionate leave to take time off for a bereavement isn't granted, people may have to use their holiday allowance.

ComRes interviewed 4,000 people for the National Council for Palliative Care and the Dying Matters Coalition. Around half of those questioned said they'd consider leaving their job if they didn’t get good support at work if someone close to them died.

6 point plan

The groups have launched a report called 'Six steps to improve support in bereavement'.

As well as statutory bereavement leave, it calls for:

  • A government minister to have overall responsibility for bereavement. Currently, issues are split across several government departments.
  • It wants a review of the financial impact on people who have been bereaved, including problems paying for funerals, called funeral poverty.
  • The groups want more clarity about where people should get bereavement support, such as local authorities and the NHS.
  • The report calls for special training to be given to people likely to come into contact with bereaved relatives, from GPs and hospital staff to benefits workers.
  • The report wants more awareness of coping with grief in wider communities and to help break the taboo of talking about death.

National Council for Palliative Care and the Dying Matters Coalition chief executive, Eve Richardson, says in a statement: "Employers have an important role to play by being compassionate and having a bereavement policy in place. They should also ensure that they support their managers so that they are confident in having sensitive discussions about end of life issues with their staff. It is also often the little things that matter and help make a difference, such as kind words from a manager or a card to say we are thinking of you.

"With the number of people dying each year set to increase there’s never been a more important time to get bereavement support right, both in the workplace and throughout society."

'Carry on as normal'

Lucy Herd founded the group Jack’s Rainbow after the death of her young son Jack in 2010. In a statement she says: "It’s completely unrealistic to expect people who have lost someone close to them to immediately go back to work and carry on as normal. That’s why we need a new approach to how we support people who have been bereaved, so that they get the support they need whenever they need it."

In a statement, Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society comments: "It’s tragic to think that employers are failing to show compassion to staff facing bereavement or difficulties when juggling work with caring for a loved one. 670,000 people in the UK are unpaid carers for someone living with dementia. It’s vital that employers recognise their responsibility to support staff both at work and at home.

"This initiative is a great first step towards increasing understanding. However, more needs to be done to ensure carers in the workplace receive support before they reach crisis point."

Reviewed on January 10, 2014

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