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.

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 )

Lead photo

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

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.

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 .

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 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 .

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.

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.

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

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.

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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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.

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

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?

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.

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

The same argument was used against Maternity Leave and NMW.

MadeOfStarDust Sun 12-Jan-14 09:13:51

It is hard, but business decisions have to be made too - how long should bereavement leave be? anyone want to set up a table.... how long for a child, a mum, an aunt, a brother.... would the table also factor in how long it takes to get to the place of death and whether you were arranging a funeral or not? or whether you had been particularly close to them in life....

It is a compromise between the needs of workers and employers... more paid time off = less profit = less wages for all etc.....

annual leave is not just for holidays, it is meant to cover the unforseen too... compassionate leave is there for the first days, the shock.. the day for the funeral etc..

sick leave is there to cover the "I just cannot go back to work, it is affecting me deeply" days...

SirChenjin Sun 12-Jan-14 08:44:42

Sounds very familiar...that wonderful "managers' discretion' used by the organisation when they want to absolve themselves of responsibility - which means that your bereavement experience is completely shaped by your line manager, who may be a reasonable, compassionate human being - or not sad

blahe Sun 12-Jan-14 08:40:36

Good ole NHS employee here too.

My Dad was given 6 weeks to live. I went into work fully expecting to work etc but it just "hit" me as I walked in the door. Spoke to my manager who told me that I "should be working" - nothing offered i.e annual leave, unpaid leave etc. Other colleagues encouraged me to go home as I really wasn't safe to work and the GP signed me off sick.

On my return to work two managers completely blanked me and would turn away from me as I had dared to take sick leave (that is how I have always been treated when not seen to be "playing nicely"). After a month they are now speaking to me again. I was also put on a discipline for having to much sick leave in the year due to having an operation and for this.

SirChenjin Sun 12-Jan-14 08:30:20

Oh Shabbs - words are not enough sad sad. I am so, so sorry.

shabbs Sun 12-Jan-14 02:37:01

Mrs D......I know that you already understand what I am going to post......but for anybody who doesn't I would just like to say the following......

Two of my four sons have died.

I had twins in 1981....one of my twin boys had serious heart problems. When he was 7 months old he died. Early one morning. He just couldn't carry on. 10 years later my DS3 was knocked down and killed by a prick driving a lorry. He was 7 years old.

After our twin boy died we struggled so much to keep putting one foot in front of the other and actually breathing.

When DS3 was killed our entire world collapsed around our ears. We were buying our council house, we were both working and doing the best we could do. DS3's funeral was on the Friday and the following Monday I HAD to go back to work. My DH had a total breakdown and was made redundant about 3 weeks after the funeral.

On my first day back at work (I worked in a cafe) the first order I took (to be delivered) was to the company whose driver had killed my son!! I glanced down the list and saw the drivers name who had crushed him to death. I did the order, while sobbing, and I carried on working at that cafe for the next few weeks. Eventually the cafe closed and I too was out of work.

Within 2 months of not being able to pay our full mortgage our home was re-possessed.

WE HAVE NEVER FULLY EMOTIONALLY OR FINANCIALLY RECOVERED! Oh yes we go from day to day with stupid pin on smiles.....we care for our surviving two sons and our grandson.

THERE IS NO DEATH SO SAD AS THAT OF A CHILD (no matter how old that child is) Our sons deaths almost destroyed us.

FanFuckingTastic Sat 11-Jan-14 21:39:08

I've found your posts confusing Numpty, not at all sure exactly what it is you are saying. And it's a fairly delicate subject for most people, being as forceful with your opinions could be seen as being rude, I say that as a person with HFA who has had to learn what rudeness is. Sometimes changing how you say things will make them a little more respectful of others.

thornrose Sat 11-Jan-14 21:38:38

so bereavement should equal 6months to a years leave without having to see a doctor on full pay then? is that just for death of a child or are we including death of any family member?

Do you have any idea how flippant that sounds Numpty?

MrsDeVere Sat 11-Jan-14 21:07:51

And disagreeing with you and thinking you are rude does not mean I have lost my reason.
Bit egotistical of you to think so.

MrsDeVere Sat 11-Jan-14 21:06:24

I wouldn't report someone for being rude confused

You keep insisting that I don't understand because I am not agreeing with you whilst ignoring the points I am making and totally dismissing my experience.

Losing a child is a bereavement like no other.
This is not to say that other bereavements are not significant and traumatic.

But to lose a child is to lose yourself. It is not a bereavement that can be 'worked through' as you put it.

I do not think it would bring this country to its knees if parents were granted the same time they get when they give birth.

Unless you feel that maternity leave is excessive?

morethanpotatoprints Sat 11-Jan-14 21:04:49

As families become more complicated I think bereavement leave should be adjusted accordingly.
My ds1 has a friend at work whose uncle died suddenly. He was given no time off and wasn't going to be allowed time off for the funeral.
His uncle had in fact raised him as a father would, but no allowance was made for this as it wasn't an immediate member of his family.
I was so upset for the poor young man sad

SirChenjin Sat 11-Jan-14 21:02:01

I don't think being rude is grounds for reporting in the way that a personal attack is - but you are coming across as rather forceful in your views Numpty. Given the topic of the thread and the emotions and grief that go along with it, perhaps you might consider treading more gently? smile

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