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

MrsDeVere Sun 12-Jan-14 09:30:07

The same argument was used against Maternity Leave and NMW.

skaen Sun 12-Jan-14 10:01:35

The main difference I can see with mat leave etc is that you can plan for it which you obviously can't with a bereavement.

I employ one person who lost her beloved grandad. I hope I treated her compassionately - she had 5 days paid leave straight afterwards but if she had any more time I needed her to be signed off by the GP. I had to employ someone else to cover her role who obviously had to be paid the same rate - I couldn't afford to cover it twice for longer than a week or so so needed to have the SSP arrangement in place.

While employers should of course be sympathetic and compassionate, the first move probably needs to come from the govt with a recognition of a certain amount of leave (say 6 months) paid at a rate set by the govt which is substantially refunded to the employer in the same way maternity pay and SSP is.

SirChenjin Sun 12-Jan-14 10:07:57

I agree - but we also need to accept that businesses have to play a role in providing this support and at the moment that is not happening. There is a small snapshots of experiences on here, and not all of them positive.

Do we want presenteeism or do we want productivity from motivated employees?

MrsDeVere Sun 12-Jan-14 10:12:59

That is my point skaen this needs to be addressed at a higher level in the way that maternity pay is.

We cannot keep relying on nice GPs to fudge sick notes and for people to have to accept a label that is not appropriate.

Grief is not an illness. So many people seem to think that not being over a death within a very short time is abnormal. It isn't. There are situations when people become 'stuck' and ill but the time scale we give for grief now is ridiculous.

I would not expect employers like yourself to have to cope with bereavement leave on your own. Why should you? It sounds as if you were very understanding of your employee.

I think that is why this needs to be looked at properly and why a proper consultation is a good idea and not a waste of money depriving the terminally ill of food hmm

mumblechum1 Sun 12-Jan-14 10:33:43

I will always regret going back to work 9 days after my son died and 2 after his funeral.

I did it because I felt obliged to, I'd only been with the firm for a month when he died and felt that I had to just get on with things. There was no one else there to do my job and I was afraid of letting my clients down (divorce lawyer). If there was some sort of standard time like a month off for the death of a close relative I would have found it helpful I think.

But I take stoicism to extreme levels, went back to work 3 weeks after major surgery for colon cancer and only took 1 day off in 6 months of chemo.

BonesAndSkully Sun 12-Jan-14 11:18:50

my biggest issue with bereavement leave is that you're only allowed to take it for your own immediate family.

i want it extended to allow for your in-law family too. My DH's eldest sister passed away in May and i was probably more upset than he was.. i loved her like my own sister, we were very close and i was absolutely devestated by her loss.. but i was not allowed to take leave to attend her funeral which was over 200 miles away the day before i was due in for work without fallin foul of my employers attendance policy.

it was the same when my MIL died a few months before DH and I were married.. not my relative, not their problem.. the fact that my (then) DP needed me to support him and that i was also grieving her loss was neither here nor there.

TheSporkforeatingkyriarchy Sun 12-Jan-14 15:08:53

My DP is currently at his brother's bedside, he's not expected to see the end of the week. DP's work (Premier Inn) has been fantastic. He called yesterday to warn them that he might have to miss a shift at short notice this week and today his boss calls to check on how he is doing and she assured that she's arranged cover for him for when he needs it. They've been stellar and above compassionate.

Piscivorus Sun 12-Jan-14 15:18:10

I think this is an issue for a lot of people Bones. We are all human and our relationships do not follow rulebooks which makes it hard to judge.

In the last year we have been to 2 funerals.
One was my aunt, lovely old lady but ill for a long time so her death was expected and she was glad to go. Although we were sad to lose her it was ok and I was given a day off work for the funeral.
The second funeral was my close friend's son, killed in an accident. He was young, vital and far too young to die. It was devastating, traumatic and, quite frankly, knocked me for six. I had to take holiday to support her and attend the funeral as he was not a relative.

It is not possible to legislate based on feelings so we have to go on defined relationships even if our feelings may not agree

RaptorInaPorkPieHat Sun 12-Jan-14 16:20:51

When my mum died, my brother was asked by his boss (large high street bank) how close he was to his mum before he would sanction compassionate leave. Appalling question to ask to a next of kin.

in contrast, my dad (who cared for my mum when she was terminally ill) had compassionate leave from the moment she got the terminal diagnosis until 6 weeks after she died (6 months in total), he was paid full pay for at least half of that time.

I had 2 weeks off, as well as care and understanding whilst she was ill. It took me a long time afterwards to get back to my normal self and they were understanding about that too.

MoreBeta Mon 13-Jan-14 08:49:15

It seems to me that an automatic right to 2 weeks unpaid leave or the automatic right to take paid leave out of the annual holiday entitlement at short notice is the right way to go on this.

That way there is no cost to the employer, the disruption to the business is limited to 2 weeks and that should be easily manageable within the context of a business where people will normally be expected to be ill, go on maternity leave, and have a holiday entitlement as part of a normal year.

What annoys me is that employers demand flexibility from employees but no flexibility the other way. Its a fair number of years since I worked for an employer but the last one had a 1 week policy of paid leave for bereavement and I am sure that would have been extendable through a combination of paid and unpaid leave.

travellingwilbury Mon 13-Jan-14 11:28:03

We were "lucky" when our ds died in that I wasn't working at the time and my dh worked for a company who were sympathetic and understanding . They just left him to it really and he probably went back a couple of weeks later which was far too early but that was his decision because he didn't want to let anyone down .

However if we were going through the same now we would be screwed . If he doesn't work he doesn't get paid . If he did get signed off which I am sure his gp would do in a heartbeat we would have to live on ssp which would be impossible . I do get better sick pay but it would not be enough for us to live on .

Nobody should have to worry how they are going to pay for the flowers for their childs funeral .

Dying in general and grief in particular are studiously ignored in this country .

Bramshott Mon 13-Jan-14 11:40:36

Sometimes I think the Victorians with their stipulated periods of mourning, and outward signs for all to see by wearing black, had the right idea.

travellingwilbury Mon 13-Jan-14 12:07:10

I think you are right Bramshott , somebody told me that in the Jewish faith the bereaved are looked after for a month and they don't cook or clean or shop or do anything remotely practical . I don't know how true it is but it sounds like a sensible idea to me .

I am convinced the thing that made us survive is we were given the space for a long time to grieve in any way we chose . We are now 12 years down the line and we still have our moments but I wouldn't go back to those first couple of years for any money .

The inconsistency of employer attitudes is really difficult. My darling dad died very suddenly and unexpectedly whilst overseas a couple of years ago. As a result, there was a bit of a delay in arranging the funeral as there was a post mortem to be done over there, and then repatriation of the body. it was an absolutely hideous time, I was completely knocked for six and could just about manage to look after my DCs who were very very close to their grandpa. I had been working for my employer for just a month and a half when he died, but they gave me 3 weeks off work on full pay, were completely understanding, and even sent me flowers.

My sister works for the NHS. She got a few days off, and then had to take annual leave. Same grief to work through, completely different attitudes.

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