Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

It’s time to properly support bereaved employees – Claire McCartney

Last month the CIPD launched its new guidance for employers on compassionate and comprehensive bereavement support. We are accompanying our guidance launch, with a call to Government to introduce the right to bereavement leave and pay to all employees experiencing a close family bereavement.

Suffering the loss of a close family member or dependent can often be a devastating experience and bereaved employees should be treated with utmost compassion and support in the workplace. Grief is not linear and does not have predictable stages. Employees will react differently to their experiences of bereavement and this should be understood and respected.

Research from the CIPD found that just over half (54%) of employees said that they were aware of their employer having a policy or support in place for employees experiencing bereavement, while many were not. Bereavement can have a significant impact on a person’s mental health and wellbeing and organisations risk adding work-related stress to what is already a difficult situation if they do not make it clear to employees the bereavement policies that are in place and the support services available to them. 

Sadly, in the UK to date, tens of thousands of people have died as a result of COVID-19.  The ongoing impact of the pandemic means that employees will have lost family members, partners and friends. Some employees might also have experienced the loss of co-workers. Much of this loss will be unexpected and shocking. Bereaved employees will need time to come to terms with what has happened and will be highly unlikely to be able to perform well at work if they are forced to return too quickly.

This makes it more important than ever to properly support those experiencing loss and grief through introducing a new right to bereavement leave and pay.

At the CIPD we are calling on the Government, alongside Lucy Herd to build on the work of Jack’s Law and parental bereavement leave and pay (introduced on the 6th April 2020), to create a new legal right to bereavement leave and pay for all employees experiencing a bereavement of a close family member or dependent. That is the right to two weeks’ leave or paid leave, if the recipient is classed as an employee. Our call is also being supported by Cruse Bereavement Care, BereavementUK and Affinity Coaching who, alongside other organisations have also provided invaluable feedback into our new workplace guidance.

The CIPD’s new guidance for employers on compassionate and comprehensive bereavement support encourages employers to develop a bereavement policy, to empower managers to support employees, put in place flexible working practices to best support employee needs, and provide information to employees on workplace support for bereavement. A separate line manager guide is also available and focuses on how to manage and support a member of your team who has suffered a bereavement.

Below I’ve included key things for organisations to consider in providing compassionate bereavement support for employees.

Bereavement policy
It’s a good idea for your workplace to have a policy that covers bereavement absence and pay, to keep things clear. A policy can also help clarify anything offered at work that’s more than what’s legally required.

Acknowledge the bereavement
Acknowledge the bereavement that the employee has experienced. They may or may not want to talk about the situation in detail, but acknowledging that it has happened is important.

Discuss what they would like communicated
By law, an employee has the right to keep their bereavement private from work colleagues. It can be a good idea for the employer to ask their employee what, if anything, they would like their work colleagues to know about the bereavement.

Build supportive cultures
Train your line managers to have open and sensitive conversations and to explore what extra support would be helpful to affected employees. Different cultures respond to death in significantly different ways. Line managers should check whether the employee’s religion or culture requires them to observe any particular practices or make special arrangements

Flexibility is key
In particular, it might be helpful to support bereaved employees through the provision of a phased return to work and flexible working provisions.

Signpost to supportive services, organisations and charities
Many businesses will have counselling, occupational health and employee assistance programmes available to support their people, and they should highlight these to those experiencing bereavement. They should also signpost to relevant organisations and charities that can support bereaved employees; this will be particularly important for smaller businesses with limited resources.

You can view CIPD’s full guidance with support links at

Claire McCartney is Senior Policy Adviser, Resourcing & Inclusion at CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development