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.
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.
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.
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.”
Returning to work after a bereavement can be really tough. Here are some tips around taking time off after a loss, and ideas to help you settle back into working life.
When you feel ready to return to work, talk to your employer about how they can make it as easy as possible for you. Going in for a coffee or lunch with your manager and/or colleagues before your first day back can help to get the potentially uncomfortable conversations out of the way. Discuss how others can support you, and how you would like difficult moments at work to be managed. For example, would you prefer to be left alone if you get upset, or would you want company? Ask your manager or HR representative for regular catch ups and check-ins to help you settle back in.
There are no set rules for when you should go back to work after a bereavement; it will depend on a lot of personal factors, as well as the rules that your employer sets out for bereavement leave. Work may offer a welcome distraction from your grief, but it can also seem very overwhelming. Make sure that you have an honest conversation with your employer about how you’re feeling, and how they can best support you with your return to work.
If you are struggling to cope with bereavement at any point, see your GP. Feeling depressed and anxious after a loss could count as illness, which entitles you to statutory or occupational sick pay.
When it’s time to go back to work after a bereavement, think through what you need your colleagues and employer to do to support you:
Sticking to a regular daily routine, including exercise and regular meals before, during and after work, can really benefit your mental health and give your days some structure while you’re coping with bereavement. Grief can have a huge impact on your ability to concentrate, so having a to-do list that breaks down different tasks at work (and at home) can give you a sense of focus and help you feel more in control as you ease yourself slowly back to work. Asking a close colleague to check any important work could also be helpful – remember it is totally normal at the start for the quality of your work and the amount you can get done in a day to have decreased since your loss.
Going back to work after a bereavement can feel overwhelming, so thinking through potential coping strategies can help in case it all suddenly feels too much.
With all this in mind, you can feel prepared and ready for your first day back at work after bereavement.