A client rang me recently with an interesting question. Could their employee take bereavement leave for their dog? The employee was genuinely grief-stricken and incapable of working. Was there anything the employer could do?

The answer to the first question is no; the death of a furry friend doesn’t qualify for bereavement leave. The legislation is clear – bereavement leave is for humans. Using sick leave doesn’t work either in this case (because the person is grieving, not sick). The best option, if it’s clear that the employee needs time off, is for the employee to ask for annual leave or leave without pay.

As employers we have all experienced how bereavement affects our employees in different ways. No two individuals’ circumstances are the same, so it can take a lot of flexibility and compassion on the part of the employer to manage bereavement leave.

Bereavement isn’t easy to talk about and, for many people, death is an uncomfortable subject. They don’t want to think about it; don’t want to talk about it (and about half of you will be thinking right now, this is a terrible topic for an article!). But, as employers, it’s something we have to handle in our work life, so it’s best to know what we are talking about. Let’s start with the legislation…

What does the Legislation say?
All employees (permanent, fixed-term, part-time and casual) can use bereavement leave if:
• they have worked for the employer continuously for six months or:
• they have worked for the employer for six months for
– an average of 10 hours per week, and
– at least one hour in every week or 40 hours in every month.

Each employee gets bereavement leave for a minimum of:
• three days per death if a spouse or partner, parent, child, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or spouse or partner’s parent dies.
• one day on the death of another person if their employer accepts they’ve had a bereavement. This is based on:
– how close they were with the deceased person
– whether they have to take a lot of the responsibility for all or any of the arrangements for the ceremonies relating to the death
– if they have any cultural responsibilities in relation to the death.

Supporting Staff through Bereavement
Despite the law being quite clear on bereavement entitlements, it’s an area that lots of employers understandably find difficult to manage. A good employer is compassionate and realistic in managing grief in the workplace. If they know an employee can’t cope with coming back to work after their 3 days’ bereavement entitlement, they’re open to the employee using annual leave or leave without pay, to cover extra time off.

One final thing – anniversaries of deaths can also be a difficult time for some. At these times, open communication with your employee can help manage any time off they may require.

In managing bereavement leave, employers have to strike a balance between being compassionate and practical. If you need any help in this area, or have any questions, give us a call 07 823 3250.