Anyone who has experienced bereavement knows how difficult it can be, and how important support from family, friends and your employer can be.
Most employers provide some form of leave at a time of loss, but there are wide variations in the amount of leave and whether the leave is paid or unpaid. Each loss brings sadness and grief, but there is a particular intensity of grief from the loss of a child. To recognise this, new legislation will come into force in April 2020 to provide parental bereavement leave.
[updated 23/01/20] The final details have been published today, and there will be provision for 2 weeks of leave to be taken within the first year of the death of a child under the age of 18. This includes babies born after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The leave will be paid at a statutory rate for those with 6 months service and weekly average earnings over the lower earning limit (£118 per week for 2019 to 2020). We have updated our reference table, summarising all the family leave provisions which you may find useful. If you would like a copy, you can download one here.
What Can Employers do to Better Support Employees through Bereavement?
The most important thing will be to let them know that they shouldn’t worry about work and reassure them that no one is expecting them to return to work until they are ready.
Keep Employees Informed of the Support Available to Them
You may feel that employees would already know what support they can access, but the reality is that they often don’t pay attention to it until they really need it.
Make sure that they know about any compassionate leave arrangements and details of any EAP or counselling provisions, if available.
It may also be helpful to direct them to support organisation such as The Compassionate Friends, Care for the Family or Child Bereavement UK. The Lullaby Trust specialises in supporting bereaved parents of babies.
A Phased Return to Work
When the employee is ready to return to work, it may be helpful for this to happen gradually and for the employee to work as flexibly as possible – but give them the freedom to make that choice.
For some time, they may experience the physical effects of bereavement such as lack of concentration or difficulty remembering things, as well as fatigue and an increased vulnerability to illness. There may also be some loss of confidence or performance. Or, the employee may appear to be coping well and it is possible that work gives them some distraction from the dramatic change in their personal life.
Whatever the situation, make sure to check in with them regularly, however well they appear to be doing.
Communicate Clearly with their Colleagues Too
Don’t forget that it can also be very difficult for employees who work alongside those that have suffered a bereavement to know what is best to say when in the workplace.
Bereaved parents often express finding other’s comments difficult. So it might be wise to talk to the employee’s team to help them understand that a simple, ‘I’m sorry, how are you?’ is probably the best approach.
Equally, people avoiding mentioning their child as if they never existed can be incredibly painful, so acknowledging their name is never going to be a bad thing. This is particularly true around special times of year such as their birthday, or at Christmas.
Consider working together to agree a communication plan, so that the employee knows what their colleagues will be told, and their colleagues know how best they would want them to communicate with them.
If the death was sudden and unexpected, there may be an inquest at a later date which could tip the bereaved parent right back to where they were when the child died, so be mindful of this too.
If the employee is off work for a long time, make sure that they are aware of the Company’s absence policy and arrange regular meetings with them. As with all long-term absences, you may need to obtain a medical report to understand how long the employee is likely to be absent for and how best to support the employee’s return to work.
With enough support and understanding most parents will return to work and perform as they did prior to their child’s death, but the event will change them forever.