When Claire and I first started collaborating, I did not envisage that coming together with the CIPD, would have such an impact on ensuring my campaign about Jack's Law and the need for employers to support their employees better when a Bereavement in the workplace happened, would have such a momentous opportunity to reach so many businesses.
To be told you can only take 3 days off to grieve a loved one is an inhumane anomaly which needs to be addressed. Funerals can take 10 days or more to organise, so to expect an employee to return to work even before a funeral has happened is not only wrong but, in some cases, impossible.
Everyone grieves differently there is no right way or wrong way. Grief is unique to everyone.
You may discover that productivity goes down, mood’s change, grieving can cause exhaustion which can make timekeeping a problem, but all these things are because often employees are expected to carry on as normal after a death.
When I started this campaign nearly 11 years ago, I had always hoped legislation would be created for everyone to be able to take time off should they need to, in the event of a family death. Time is precious and we should not have to worry about taking time off from work because our whole world has altered due to grief. Therefore, we are working towards ensuring Jacks Law is amended, to better protect future families from being told they can’t take ‘time’.
Ensuring you have the correct things in place within your workplace will help tremendously to support an employee when a bereavement may happen. There are a few things you can do such as maybe have a Grief First Aider within the workplace, have an updated bereavement policy, offer external grief support, and sometimes all you need to do is be a friendly listening ear.
Just over a year ago Lucy and I wrote a joint blog, welcoming the new legal right to paid parental bereavement leave – Jack’s Law. Jack’s Law entitles all employees who lose a child under the age of 18, or whose child is stillborn from 24 weeks of pregnancy, to a statutory minimum of two weeks’ leave.
The CIPD fully supports the introduction of ‘Jack’s Law’ and we continue to raise awareness among people professionals and organisations of this important change in law. We also want to recognise Lucy in her successful and brave campaign work in this area, which is already making such a difference to so many people.
However, Lucy and the CIPD both believe the time is right to call for an extension of Jack’s Law so that employee’s experiencing the bereavement of a close family member can also be supported by the statutory provisions and we are talking to cross-party MP’s about ways of progressing this agenda. We are also working alongside a coalition of organisations and charities uniting on this issue, including Marie Curie, Sue Ryder, Affinity Coaching Supervision, Bereavement UK and Cruse Bereavement Care.
Employees that have experienced a close family bereavement will need time to come to terms with what has happened and will be highly unlikely to be able to perform well at work if they are forced to return too quickly. While many organisations provide paid bereavement leave to support employees at one of the most difficult times of their lives, this is far from universal and extending the statutory provision is likely to give employees time and space to grieve rather than worrying about paying their bills and financial worries.
It’s also vital that organisations think of the support they can give to bereaved employees beyond any period of bereavement leave and pay. Grief is not linear and does not have predictable stages and for many people is likely to be ongoing. How employees are treated by their employer is likely to have a significant impact on how they handle the bereavement, and how they feel towards their organisation and their work in general going forward.
We have produced compassionate bereavement guidance for both organisations and people managers and we would encourage organisations to make as much use of these as is helpful to them to support a compassionate culture around bereavement at work. We have detailed some of the key points form the guidance, below.
It’s a good idea for your workplace to have a policy that covers bereavement absence and pay, to keep things clear. A policy can also help clarify anything offered at work that’s more than what’s legally required. Acas provides an example of a policy here.
Acknowledge the bereavement
Acknowledge the bereavement that the employee has experienced. They may or may not want to talk about the situation in detail, but acknowledging that it has happened is important.
Discuss what they would like communicated
By law, an employee has the right to keep their bereavement private from work colleagues. It can be a good idea for the employer to ask their employee what, if anything, they would like their work colleagues to know about the bereavement.
Build supportive cultures
Train your line managers to have open and sensitive conversations and to explore what extra support would be helpful to affected employees. Different cultures respond to death in significantly different ways. Line managers should check whether the employee’s religion or culture requires them to observe any particular practices or make special arrangements.
Flexibility is key
In particular, it might be helpful to support bereaved parents through the provision of a phased return to work and flexible working provisions.
Signpost to supportive services, organisations and charities
Many businesses will have counselling, occupational health and employee assistance programmes available to support their people, and they should highlight these to those experiencing bereavement. They should also signpost to relevant organisations and charities that can support bereaved working parents; this will be particularly important for smaller businesses with limited resources (below we have included some further sources of support).
Sources of information and support
Child Bereavement UK
The Grief Educator – Lucy Herd
Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide
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