When a family member passes away it’s a difficult time for everyone. It’s emotional, it’s frustrating, it’s sometimes impossible to believe. And amidst all of that grief, there’s work to be done too.
As an employer, do you know what the rules are regarding time off for an employee who has suffered a death in the family? Could you hazard a guess? Would you be able to confidently answer any questions that might arise?
If you weren’t sure about any of those questions, you’re not alone. Confusion over what should or shouldn’t be offered and paid once a family member has passed away is one of the questions that is asked over and over again.
The problem is that the rules are unclear. Although every employee is allowed time off – as long as that time off is reasonable – when it comes to emergencies involving a dependent (a child, spouse, or anyone else who relies on that employee for day to day care), the term ‘reasonable’ is never qualified, and the employer is not required to pay for that time anyway.
If a death in the family constitutes an emergency, then we could look to these albeit vague rules with regards to what can be done.
But how much time can an employer reasonably allow for an employee to grieve? Grief has no finite time limit; it can take years for someone to really get over a death, especially if it is someone in their immediate family such as a parent or child. So should an employer be asked to wait until the grieving process is completed – whenever that may be – and give the employee all the time they need and want? Or should there be a set time limit that allows everyone to know where they stand and what is expected of them should the worst happen?
This latter seems to be a sensible idea. It can be written into an employee’s contract, and it can ascertain exactly how much time will be given, and how much the employee will be paid during that time. It is best to do this in advance, right at the start of someone’s employment, and hope that it never comes to it, rather than being faced with a dilemma about what to do and how to tackle the situation it and when it comes up and surprises everyone.
It is wise to have written rules that everyone in the business abides by – this can include not only how much time is given as ‘bereavement leave’ and how much money will be paid, but it can also include other aspects such as keeping in touch with the office.
No one likes to talk about death, it’s just the way we are, and everyone is afraid of saying the wrong thing; just by putting these rules in place in advance bosses can avoid any awkward situations and conversations, and employees can grieve without worrying about work.