KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 10-Jan-14 16:39:52

Bereavement leave – why our bosses need to recognise grief

Significant numbers of people who have been bereaved feel let down by their employers, as shown by a new report from Dying Matters and the National Council for Palliative Care.

In today's guest post, Joe Levenson, Director of Communications for the National Council for Palliative Care and the Dying Matters Coalition, argues that a more compassionate approach is needed, and calls for a national review of employment practice related to bereavement.

Read his post and tell us what you think. Have you been treated inconsiderately by a boss after losing a loved one? Share your experiences on the thread below.

Lead photo
Joe Levenson

Director of Communications for the National Council for Palliative Care & Dying Matters

Posted on

Fri 10-Jan-14 16:39:52

(88 comments)

Almost a third of people felt their employer did not treat them with compassion when a relative died, according to a new survey.

Every minute someone in Britain dies, and almost half of us say we’ve been bereaved in the last five years. Yet society’s response before and after a death often falls short, which can make dealing with loss so much more difficult.

All too frequently people who have been bereaved report feeling unsupported. There are sadly countless stories of people who have lost a loved one and who have been treated unsympathetically, including in the workplace.

A new report from the National Council for Palliative Care, published with the Dying Matters Coalition and the National Bereavement Alliance, reveals that significant numbers of bereaved people say they felt let down by their employer.

Almost a third of people who were in a job when someone close to them died, according to a new ComRes survey, did not feel their employer treated them with compassion. Moreover, despite job insecurities and an uncertain economy, more than half of us say we would consider leaving our job if our employer did not provide proper support when someone close to us died.

The challenge now is to learn from good and bad experiences alike, so that more bereaved people can receive the support they need from their employer, when they need it.

While some employers have excellent compassionate employment policies and are sympathetic and flexible to staff who have been bereaved, many others appear to be failing to provide the right support. People who are self-employed can also find it hard to access support and may find juggling work and the practical and emotional fallout of the death of a loved one impossible, at least in the short-term.

Since the publication of our report, I’ve heard both heartbreaking and heart-warming stories of people’s treatment from employers after having been bereaved. I was particularly struck by one BBC interviewer, who the moment we went off air told me that her husband who worked elsewhere had not been able to get any time off work to attend her mum’s funeral, causing enormous upset.

The challenge now is to learn from good and bad experiences alike, so that more bereaved people can receive the support they need from their employer, when they need it.

That’s why we are calling for a national review of employment practice relating to bereavement, to improve the way people are treated at work. This review should look at the feasibility of minimum statutory paid bereavement leave - something which doesn’t exist at present.

The introduction of paid time off work for parents following bereavement is something which Lucy Herd - a Mumsnet Blogger who writes over at Jack's Rainbow - has been passionately campaigning for, since her young son Jack died in August 2010.

Whatever the outcome of Lucy’s campaign and our calls for a national review, there’s no excuse for employers not to go ahead immediately with ensuring they have an updated bereavement policy. To support employers with this, the Dying Matters Coalition, which aims to raise awareness about the importance of talking more openly about dying, death and bereavement, has announced the launch of 'Compassionate employers'.

By Joe Levenson

Twitter: @DyingMatters

SunshineOnACrappyDay Fri 10-Jan-14 16:50:53

Great article.

I lost my oldest friend to suicide a few years ago. I worked for a small charity and they were amazing. I had a week's leave, in dribs and drabs and at short notice. I was in such shock that one day I simply walked out of the office, leaving my computer on and not telling anyone. The last day I had off was the day of the funeral.

My contract stated that I was allowed a week paid leave for the death of very close relatives only. However, they could see how badly I was affected and were incredibly supportive, and acted better than the contract.

Ironically, I left a couple of years later because they were absolutely awful about another employment issue...

pol2012 Fri 10-Jan-14 16:55:54

My dad passed away last march. The employer I was with at the time was incredibly unsympathetic. They even went as far as calling me the evening before the funeral to see if it would be finished by 5 so I could do an extra shift for them hmm

SirChenjin Fri 10-Jan-14 17:22:37

I completely agree with this. I work for the NHS - a 'caring' organisation which gives a maximum of one of your working weeks off (ie pro rata for p/t workers) for the death of a close relative only (spouse, child, brother, sister, parent). Anything more than that is down to the discretion of your manager - so too bad if your manager is devoid of a heart. Quite how anyone can be expected to get back to work one week after the death of a child is beyond me. I had to get back to work after my darling mum died very suddenly - I managed, but I was in a complete daze and achieved very little in the first month back - but I know that I am better off than many others workers who get less than that.

My employer (1000+ staff) allows one day off to attend a funeral - but allows two if you are organising it. Given that you are usually very close family if you are organising the funeral it's not exactly generous! Any extra time has to be taken from annual leave or getting signed off by your GP (we do get paid for sick leave).
I totally agree there should be a national review.

NumptyNameChange Fri 10-Jan-14 17:40:40

i found myself thinking blimey how much does a national review cost? people who are sick and dying are going without under austerity and somehow calling for expensive 'reviews' of tbh less pressing matters (of course bereavement is awful but there are dying people not entitled to financial help at the moment and using food banks whilst dying of terminal cancer so it kind of is a bit peripheral in relative terms) seems.... self indulgent?

would you rather your dying relative could afford to buy food or that you got paid to grieve when they're dead?

NumptyNameChange Fri 10-Jan-14 17:41:52

GPs are massively sympathetic in my experience and would sign people off if necessary. whether people get sickpay or not is a whole other matter that should be tackled square on at source - not found ways round itms.

NumptyNameChange Fri 10-Jan-14 17:43:02

my point is if you need time off you get signed off and are covered by sick pay. if you don't get sickpay you've got bigger fish to fry than fighting for bereavement leave.

fishybits Fri 10-Jan-14 17:48:40

I have to say that I agree. One of my employee's father died and I gave her 10 paid working days off to use as she needed to. She was understandably distraught and actually not capable of doing her job properly.

NumptyNameChange Fri 10-Jan-14 18:08:58

if she was unfit for work her gp could have signed her off and she could have had sick pay. at which point you would have been entitled at least to statutory sickpay reimbursement? your business must be doing awfully well to be able to afford this.

There is an excellent article in today's Telegraph by Alice Arnold covering this here

Yes sick leave is available - but that really hides the issue and in my workplace any length time off 'sick' submits you to a monitoring process and further sanctions. Nobody chooses to be bereaved. I lost my bil a couple of years ago and used the four days I could take, having had one day off as carer's leave for my daughter earlier in the year. Tbh that time was a blur. I coped at work but it wasn't easy and it wasn't good for me or the work I was doing tbh. What stays with me most is a comment from a friend when linking to Lucy Herd's campaign. Without an understanding employer they said they would have been 'broke as well as broken' after the loss of their child. Employers have a duty of care towards their employees in desperate circumstances. There should be more paid leave for the death of parent, spouse and child and there should also be paid leave for anybody affected by a suicide in their family or close friends. There's only so much people can bear.

fishybits Fri 10-Jan-14 18:23:42

Numpty - I didn't even think to ask for a sick note as to me she wasn't sick but grieving.

My business did very well thanks for asking.

LittleMissRedSparklyBaubles Fri 10-Jan-14 18:56:48

My GP signed me off without question after my dad died. My otherwise dreadful employers were very sympathetic and told me to take as long as I needed (probably on reflection as they were not paying me whilst I was off). I can't remember how long I was off, maybe about a month, as I was helping my mum out. I think the point is indeed that there was no way I would have been fit to do my job and needed that initial time to grieve. Anyone who has been through it will know that the first year or so is incredibly difficult, and if your employers are not understanding this is likely to have an impact on your grieving process.

My sister works for the Local Authority and also took some sick leave. She has been in her fairly senior position for years, and has an almost impeccable sick record. But because she had been off with flu a couple of months before, because of the combined days she been off, she had to go through their Back to Work interviews in the same was as if she was a persistent skiver - no flexibility for the circumstances, and just causes upset and resentment.

It doesn't make you feel inclined to be loyal and go that extra mile for employers if they do not have some empathy for real human issues, whether it be bereavement, illness etc. Equally well, I do understand the impact that lengthier absence for whatever reason can have, especially small businesses.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

DoubleLifeIsALifeOfSorts Fri 10-Jan-14 19:33:01

I had three and a half weeks off when my sister died, I didn't even think to question how or what they'd come out of, I wasn't in any fit state to function. I ended up taking two weeks as holiday days and work gave me a week paid leave. I was in shock and we couldn't bury her for weeks as they had to do a post mortem... But our council had made cuts and there were no people working doing autopsies. We had to get our MP to sort it out, which he did thank God, three awful weeks of waiting and knowing she was locked in an empty mortuary alone and unburied. Sorry im crying thinking about it.

There was no way I could have worked and if work had tried to force me I'd have resigned. I had no money but I wasn't in a state to care.

LittleMissRedSparklyBaubles Fri 10-Jan-14 19:36:19

God Double that is awful. I agree with what you say about not being in any fit state to care, but it is a very difficult reality that people have mortgages, rent etc to pay even although it is the last thing on their mind at the time.

PortofinoRevisited Fri 10-Jan-14 20:16:31

I am not sure about leave etc and how they manage it, but at my Belgian employer, a family death is seen as a big thing. There is always a death notice, a card signed, and people from work will attend the funeral as a mark of respect - I was quite taken aback as this happens not just for husbands/children where you might expect it, but grandparents and PILs. ie they don't the dead person at all but just do it to support. It's lovely really.

MrsDeVere Fri 10-Jan-14 20:59:48

What if your GP refuses to sign you off Numpty?

Yes, you are right, people with cancer shouldn't have to go to food banks but you know what?
Nor should someone who has lost their child.
Because if you cannot get paid leave you cannot eat.
I had to give up work when my DD got sick. My OH was the only one in work when she died so he couldn't take unpaid leave.

There are no out of work benefits for bereaved parents. They took incapacity benefit off of me after a few months. Grief does not = illness and therefore you are not entitled to sickness benefits.

So after being my DD's carer for two years I had to find a job a few months after her death and my OH had to just get on with his job.

I recently had a nervous collapse. I hadn't had a chance to properly grieve for my DD so 7 years later I found I was unable to function. I had three months off work and when I came back I had to promise not to take more than 3 days sick leave in the next year.

I think playing off 'person with terminal cancer' against 'people bereaved by cancer' is pretty insensitive.

FanFuckingTastic Fri 10-Jan-14 21:13:45

Bereavement benefit helps surviving partners a little buffer while they are sorting out probate and if their partner dying leaves them with debt to pay off, plus it helps with time off for grieving. My mum is lucky that she is signed off and has been since he was diagnosed as terminal, with a couple of months afterwards to recover, although she has to return as she has gone to half pay and simply can't afford not to even with the benefit. They have put her part time and not with patients in the first month, and she has a full years leave to take before the end of March also, so it won't be too difficult for her and she will have a break before going back to running clinics again, but I know some places not like that.

My sister couldn't get any time but what she had in annual leave to spend time with her step-dad and support her grieving mother, and that was quite sad.

Even worse, my daughter who had to travel to be with the family was only allowed the day of the funeral off of school, which was a Wednesday, despite trying to get her off until the end of the week so she could spend some time with us at such a difficult time. Don't children need time to grieve also? Without their parents being fined for such time?

PortofinoRevisited Fri 10-Jan-14 22:04:51

I remember my dad telling me that when my DM was in hospital in London, there was NO help on offer. He literally could not afford to pay the bills, feed 2 kids AND visit his dying wife in hospital. He couldn't afford the train fair. I saw a thread earlier that new mums should get free bus trips. It made me irrationally cross.

SurvivalOfTheUnfittest Fri 10-Jan-14 22:25:04

When my dad died suddenly, aged 56, in half term ten years ago, I rang my Head teacher on the Sunday to let him know. He asked which day he had died, which day the funeral was (Wednesday) and replied, "Okay, we'll see you on Thursday then." And I went to work and carried on as if nothing had happened the day after the funeral as I was too young to realise that this was all wrong. A year later I had to stop and deal with my grief.
In 2013, history repeated itself, and my gorgeous DH died suddenly aged just 39. My current employer has been brilliant. They have bent over backwards to support and accommodate me.

Thants Fri 10-Jan-14 22:34:36

Numptynamechange. I'm not surprised you have changed your name. Your comment is disgusting.
The choice shouldn't and isn't between supporting the dying and the bereaved! Supporting bereaved people doesn't take away money from sick people. Cuts, austerity, a Tory government that favour the rich is the problem here. We need no more cuts and more money in the NHS OBVIOUSLY! But we can also discuss and review employment law. It is for the good of everyone! Calling the bereaved 'self indulgent' is simply nasty and ignorant. When I was bereaved I felt a huge amount of guilt as many people do and pathetic little comments like yours only make that worse.

EBearhug Fri 10-Jan-14 23:08:20

My current employer's policy is 3 days compassionate leave for close family (parents, children, spouse/partner, sibling.)

God alone knows how you manage to tell everyone, organise the funeral, execute a will, clear the house and so on as I had to for my mother's death, as well as carry on a full-time job. Fortunately, my GP signed me off with stress without question.

I did try to carry on with life as normal after my father died, and ended up with my manager gently telling me I had to take some action (see a grief counsellor or something), because if I carried on as I was, not actually managing any work, he'd have to start disciplinary action, and that wasn't going to help. So that's why I just went to the doctor after my mother died.

My manager was fine with it, but because he'd been to check with HR what the official policy was, he couldn't let me have any more discretionary leave, whereas if he hadn't asked and they weren't alerted to it and checking what was happening, it would have probably been fine. Ho hum.

I do wonder how some of the companies I dealt with closing my mother's accounts treated their employees when they suffered a bereavement - some companies were great, but some (yes BT & Orange, I am looking at you,) were absolutely diabolical. I hope their staff are treated better than their customers.

NumptyNameChange Sat 11-Jan-14 08:17:24

as if i called the bereaved self indulgent! come on now.

my point was that at a 'time' where such awful things are happening to terminally ill people ergo the cake has sunk and gone to shit expensive national reviews and focussing on bereavement pay does seem an icing issue. you sort the cake out before the icing imo.

that's not to say the issue is not important but that we need to concentrate efforts, campaigning, energy and resources into the highest priority issues before moving onto the next.

it is too while rome burned for me.

dannydyerismydad Sat 11-Jan-14 10:00:18

I knew a chap whose brother died very suddenly and unexpectedly. As you can imagine, it was a terrible shock and he took it very badly.

He took the time off, as detailed in his emolument contract to grieve, and when the time came to return to work, he wasn't up to it, so he called in sick day after day. His employers didn't chase him for a return to work date, and didn't hassle him for sick notes, they just left him to grieve. He ended up dying soon after of a drink and drugs overdose. His employers thought they were doing the kindest thing, but perhaps of they had insisted on a doctors certificate he would have been able to access the help that he needed.

This is such a difficult topic, that is definitely handled badly by many employers who should know better, but unlimited time off isn't necessarily the best answer either.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now