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How to handle bereavement in the workplace sensitively and correctly

We learn more daily of the far reaching and devastating consequences of Monday’s Manchester bombing. Many workplaces up and down the country will be affected, as terrible news reaches family, friends and colleagues (old and new).  Some workplaces will have lost employees. Staff themselves may have lost loved ones.

How should employers handle bereavement?

As an employer, what can and should you do to support grieving and shocked employees? Not just when large scale tragedies such as this occur, but any time your staff are bereaved or receive terrible news.

We wrote a blog on best practice and the legal duties when dealing with bereavement in the workplace which you can revisit in full here.

  • Technically, the law doesn’t require employers to grant bereavement leave to their staff.
  • Staff do however have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off to make funeral plans and other necessary arrangements in the event of the death of a dependant; but there is no right to be paid.
  • Your compassionate leave policy is there to spell out your position on providing bereavement leave – paid or unpaid. If you do not have one of these please get in touch with The HR Dept and we can help you to set one out.

Having said all this, that’s just the law, so your compassion is absolutely key here. The affected staff and their colleagues need to see that you are a caring and supportive employer. Businesses that empathise and show their staff compassion and leniency during such turmoil will invariably benefit through an improved employment relationship, as well as preventing any ill feelings upon their return.

Of course, most SME business owners would go above and beyond in tragic circumstances, but it’s important that your compassionate leave policy is set out and clear. First, to be consistent and second to manage expectations. Remember that there are different religious beliefs and customs for funerals which may affect the time needed as leave. Don’t leave yourself open to accusations of discrimination.

Aside from time off for bereavement and funeral arrangements, how else can a business owner offer emotional support to their staff in circumstances like this? Perhaps consider access to bereavement counselling or an employee assistance programme and consult with your staff about what support they might need.

When colleagues die

When a colleague dies, it’s devastating for everyone. The whole business will be in shock. So as well as offering access to emotional support channels, perhaps consider how your business can remember them and celebrate their life. Whether a donation to a chosen charity, a memorial of some description or a company event. Your business will need to show it cares, and you will need to allow your staff time to grieve.

Unfortunately, sometimes the death of an employee can attract local or even national press attention. This is likely to be extra difficult to cope with, so consider getting some expert PR support. Otherwise dealing with this added pressure may become overwhelming and upsetting.

We offer our sincerest condolences to all those affected this week, and our thoughts are with families, friends and the workplaces of those who have lost their lives.