After experiencing the loss of a loved one, knowing what to expect from your employer can help relieve some of the pressure around returning to work. In this article, we’ve outlined what to expect from your employer, bereavement leave law, and how your workplace can support you after a loss.
Am I entitled to workplace support?
In the UK, employers are not legally obliged to offer paid bereavement leave, but many do. Most are very understanding in the event of bereavement and will do their best to support you in any way they can. Your workplace may have a Bereavement Policy that outlines your entitlement to bereavement leave, pay and ongoing support.
There is no set number of days that an employer must offer for bereavement leave, but they are obliged to allow a ‘reasonable’ number of days as unpaid leave.
Typically, employers in the UK allow 3-5 days bereavement leave for the loss of a close family member, like a spouse, parent, or sibling; less for other relatives, such as grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
If you have experienced a stillbirth or the loss of a child, you are legally entitled to two weeks’ Parental Bereavement Leave with Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay. Your employer may choose to provide additional child bereavement support and top up this payment to replace your full wage during this two week period. You can read more at gov.uk.
People need different amounts of time to process their loss enough to return to work. If you feel that you need longer than allocated, you can discuss extending your bereavement leave with your HR department or manager, or using holiday leave to give yourself some extra time. If this isn’t an option, your GP may be able to support you in taking time off as sick leave until you feel able to return.
How can my workplace support me after a loss?
When you inform your workplace of your bereavement, a good manager will offer their condolences and reassure you that taking the time to grieve takes priority over work. You can use this initial conversation to ask if they have a Bereavement Policy for you to read through to get a clear idea of how you can expect to be supported.
Depending on the nature of your work, your manager might ask if there is anything they need to do in your absence. They may also offer to tell your colleagues about your loss, so you don’t have to explain it again when you return. Your employer shouldn’t make you feel guilty about taking time off or try to rush you back to work before you’re ready.
When you do return to work after bereavement leave, you may find that you struggle to concentrate or are not able to manage your full duties straight away. Your manager should support you as you settle back into the workplace, including discussing whether a phased return is an option if you feel it may help.
Your workplace might also offer a counselling service that offers bereavement counselling.
Advice from our community
We asked some of our current members of our community to share their stories about how they dealt with returning to work while coping with grief after a bereavement.
Tsungai – “My advice would be – speak. Say what you need and ask for a day off when you need to and if that’s not possible take a break and do whatever you need to do to be okay.”
Shannon – “If you’re like me and work doesn’t provide a distraction, my advice would be to communicate your needs as best you can from the start. You might need a gradual return to ease yourself back in. My workplace was very sympathetic and accommodating with helping me until I gained some focus back.”
Melanie – “I was very fortunate, my employer encouraged me to take as long as I needed before returning to work. Work is my sanctuary and I find it a really good way to cope. I was lucky to manage a new team of people who don’t know what has happened to me. As long as I keep busy I can generally keep the grief at bay.”