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Bereavement Leave UK – Everything You Need To Know As An Employer

bereavement leave uk

Every business owner in the UK is bound by UK government guidelines when it comes to bereavement leave and pay (also known as compassionate leave) – but what do these guidelines say about how to treat your employee during the loss of an immediate family member?

Today we’ll cover employees’ rights when it comes to bereavement leave in the UK more generally, before focussing on parental bereavement leave and statutory parental bereavement pay.

Note: Whilst the guidance in our business owner guide today will focus predominantly on UK government guidelines, most companies and businesses in the UK will go above and beyond the bare minimum. Check your employee handbook to ensure you are sticking to your own policies for bereavement leave, too.

What Is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave in the UK is time off work offered by employers to employees who have experienced the loss of a loved one. The Employment Rights Act 1996 states that UK employers are obligated to offer a “reasonable amount” of time off following the death of a family member or dependent who they have been caring for.

How Do Bereavement Leave And Sick Leave Differ?

Sick leave differs here because sick leave is usually related to employee illness, but may relate to the illness of a dependent when your employee has caring responsibilities for an individual who is sick.

Employees may be moved on to sick leave and pay if they feel they can’t return to work following the end of any bereavement leave offered by the employer – but the two are distinct leave options for employees.

Is Compassionate Leave The Same As Bereavement Leave?

Yes. In the UK, businesses can use bereavement or compassionate leave interchangeably and they both mean the same thing for employees.

Is My Employee Entitled To Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave is usually only reserved for the death of a family member or an individual the employee takes care of. The following deaths are almost always covered by bereavement leave:

  • spouse
  • civil partner
  • partner
  • child
  • parent
  • brother
  • sister
  • grandparent
  • aunt
  • uncle
  • niece
  • nephew


However, it’s important to point out that there is no defined list of individuals that employees are entitled to compassionate leave for. It’s almost always best to use your discretion as an employer and to look at the individual circumstances of each case that’s presented to you.

For employees who have been solely caring for an elderly neighbour, for example, they would be entitled to bereavement leave following their death because your employee was in charge of their care. But a childhood best friend who passes wouldn’t necessarily be covered, yet it would still affect your employee and their ability to complete their job effectively in much the same way.

Most UK businesses look at bereavement leave on a case by case basis and often offer it to employees with deaths that go beyond just family members.

Are Employees’ Entitled To Paid Bereavement Leave And Pay?

Yes. Every employee in the UK is entitled to bereavement leave following the death of someone close to them – such as the scenarios and family members discussed above.

But does that mean you will get paid for your time off from work?

Unfortunately, there is no legal right in the UK that entitles you to paid time off for compassionate leave from work. However, most employers will offer paid time off for individuals dealing with a loss. Some employers are so insistent on offering paid time off for compassionate leave that they’ll include in a few key places:

Check Your Company Handbook And Employment Contract

Many businesses offer paid bereavement leave and pay to their employees, and as such, will usually include a clause about this in their contract of employment and further information in their company or employee handbook.

If you, as a business owner, are thinking of including a clause or policy about paid compassionate leave in your contracts or handbooks, you should also make it abundantly clear to all employees exactly how much pay they will be entitled to during this time off.

Again, you’re under no legal obligation to offer anything at all, but as a general rule, plenty of UK businesses will offer the equivalent of your employee’s average weekly earnings to help compensate them during this time – but it is completely up to you.

Our advice here is to always make it clear how much bereavement pay an employee is entitled to so there is no confusion during such a difficult time for the employee.

supporting employees through bereavement leave

How Long Can An Employee Be On Bereavement Leave?

The length of time an employee takes off work for bereavement leave can vary significantly. There are no guidelines set out by the UK government here, so it’s always left to the employer’s discretion.

Most UK businesses will allow for around 2-5 days worth of compassionate leave (most often paid) but may choose to extend or reduce this based on a case by case basis.

If a business owner prefers to keep things fair across all circumstances, they may include average time off entitled to in their bereavement policy so all employees get a similar amount of time off to deal with the death of a family member or someone they care for.

Can Employees Take Longer Periods Of Bereavement Leave In The UK?

The loss of a loved one can have serious affects on an employee’s mental health. You might include a general guide in your handbook for time off permitted as the employer, but this will inevitably not work for every employee.

Business owners should use their discretion at this time and decide if they are willing to offer extended periods of bereavement leave to the employee based on their circumstances.

If you choose to extend their leave, you might choose to remove their pay during this time based on your business needs. But we would like to offer a word of caution here: make sure your policies and clauses reflect this. Make it clear to employees that they are entitled to X amount of time of paid bereavement leave, and that an extended unpaid leave period may be offered if requested by the employee. This ensures fairness across all employees, and lets employees know from the start what they are entitled to.

If your employee will be taking extended unpaid leave, you might offer them the option of using some of their annual leave during this time to ensure they are still compensated whilst taking this time off.

Do Employees Need To Provide Proof Of A Family Death?

Again, there aren’t any guidelines on this. Most employers will choose to take an employee at their word given the sensitive nature of the information they are sharing.

However, an employer may choose to include a need for employees to provide proof of the reason for their bereavement leave if they want to protect themselves from the potential for some employees to abuse their kindness and lie about a death just to have time off.

If you do want your employees to provide proof of the reason for their compassionate leave then this must be included in the bereavement policy and make clear what constitutes proof. You might request one of the following:

  • notice of death
  • death certificate
  • obituary
  • funeral notice
  • a bereavement sick note from a doctor if they can’t return due to grief


Be warned, though: it can be incredibly awkward requesting proof such as this, so ensure you treat all employees fairly and with respect and kindness when doing so to avoid coming across as though you’re lacking compassion for their situation.

compassionate leave uk

Rules Are Different For Statutory Parental Bereavement Leave

Following a child’s death, parents are entitled to parental bereavement leave – the UK government provides much more specific advice surrounding this as it’s an especially sensitive topic that UK business owners need to handle well given the upsetting time for your employee.

Below we’ll look at guidance specifically relating to parents bereavement leave following the death of an older child or following a miscarriage or stillbirth.

What Is Parental Bereavement Leave?

Parental bereavement leave is something parents are entitled to, as well as statutory parental bereavement pay if they or their partner had a child who died whilst under the age of 18 years old, or a miscarriage or stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

If either of these conditions are met, then employers must legally provide leave and statutory parental bereavement pay during this time.

How Much Bereavement Leave Is An Employee Entitled To When A Child Dies?

As a general guide, the UK government says parental bereavement leave must be offered as a minimum of 2 weeks paid leave for each child that has been lost. It is the employee’s right to take that time off consecutively, or split up over a period.

If an employee chooses not to take their parental leave all at once, it must still be taken within 56 weeks of the date the child dies. The leave doesn’t need to start right away either.

For example, if a grieving employee is on statutory maternity leave or paternity leave at the time of the loss, then they are entitled to finish their leave as normal, before then taking parental bereavement leave.

Remember, this is the minimum that must be offered. You may have a parental bereavement policy that differs from this – ensure you know your own policies when supporting an employee through a loss of this nature.

How Much Pay Are Parents Entitled To During A Loss?

Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay is set at £184.03 a week or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings whichever is lower. Tax and National Insurance will be deducted from this pay as normal.

Generally, there’s nothing an employer can do about this minimum pay as it’s set by the government.

What Are The Rules Surrounding Miscarriages And Stillbirths?

So long as the stillbirth or miscarriage occurs after 24 weeks of pregnancy, then all of the rules above apply to the employee(s) affected by their loss.

Unfortunately, if the miscarriage or stillbirth takes place before 24 weeks of pregnancy, parents aren’t actually entitled to statutory leave or pay.

In this instance, the guidance we have already discussed in previous sections would be most relevant. It would be up to the employer whether paid leave is offered or not.

Most business owners will understand that the loss of a child at any point is difficult for any parent, and thus will offer support during this time regardless of whether or not it is their employee’s statutory right to time off or pay.

You’ll have to make your own decision as a business owner whether you would offer paid leave during an earlier miscarriage or stillbirth. However, you should keep your approach standard across all employees and make your employee’s entitlement clear in their contract/employee handbook.

How To Handle Any Loss For An Employee

Whilst all of the advice we’ve given today has been very much rooted in UK government guidelines and industry standards, we recognise that the loss of any loved one is so much more than policy, contracts, and company handbooks – and we urge all business owners to recognise this, too.

The key to earning your employee’s respect during this difficult time in their life is to show compassion and understanding towards their horrible situation. Offer as much support as you can, but bare your policies and other guidelines covered throughout our post today in mind, so you can treat all employees the same when experiencing a loss.

Kindness is key.

Should My Business Offer More Than The Minimum Bereavement Leave Guidelines?

You are under no obligation to offer more than the minimum when it comes to compassionate leave and pay for employees – whether or not you choose to is entirely up to you and your business needs.

If you do offer more than the minimum, this must be included in obvious places for your employees such as company/employee handbooks and contracts of employment, so they always know where they stand and where to refer back to following the loss of a loved one.



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