The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Does death really matter so little?

Thursday, 13 June 2013

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Citizens of the UK have no statutory right to bereavement leave. Momentous as the event of a death may be, it is not reckoned to be of sufficient magnitude to enjoy equal rights with birth. Says a lot about our cultural attitudes to mortality, doesn’t it? 

There’s currently an e-petition calling for a legal right to take time off work in the aftermath of a death. It’s passed the 10,000 mark, triggering a response from the government. This is what they say: 

The death of a family member is deeply upsetting for those involved and the Government would expect any employer to respond to such situations with sensitivity and flexibility. However, the Government believes that all requests for leave related to bereavement are best left for employers and their employees to decide between themselves. The Government has not legislated for bereavement leave in any situation and there are no plans to introduce a specific right to support bereaved parents/relatives. In doing so we would be obliged to put in place limits, standards and definitions. The amount of leave needed can vary from one individual to another, and defining what family relationship would qualify for such leave, would be difficult, as it would be impossible to legislate for every circumstance. Whilst there is no specific right to “bereavement leave”, all employees do have a day-one right to “time off for dependants” which allows them to take a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with unexpected or sudden emergencies, including when a close family member dies. Time off will cover arranging and attending the funeral. Employees who exercise this right are protected against dismissal or victimisation. The right does not include an entitlement to pay. The decision as to whether the employee will be paid is left to the employer’s discretion or to the contract of employment between them. The Government hopes that employers are as sympathetic and flexible as possible in responding to employee requests for time off, particularly when bereavement is involved. This e-petition remains open to signatures and will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold.

There may be flaws in the government’s argument. The statement “defining what family relationship would qualify for such leave, would be difficult” applies equally to birth, doesn’t it? It isn’t difficult at all. 

You can sign the petition here. I hope you will. It won’t make the slightest bit of difference in the short term. We have to play the long game with this one. 

Here’s a reminder of the present status quo: 

Maternity leave

As an employee you have the right to 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave making one year in total. The combined 52 weeks is known as Statutory Maternity Leave. 

Paternity leave

As long as you meet certain conditions you can take either one or two weeks’ Ordinary Paternity Leave. You can’t take odd days off and if you take two weeks they must be taken together. 

Compassionate leave

If you are an ‘employee’, you have the right to unpaid time off work to deal with emergencies involving a ‘dependant’ – this could be your husband, wife, partner, child, parent, or anyone living in your household as a member of the family.  

When a dependant dies, you can take time off to make funeral arrangements, as well as to attend a funeral.  

2 comments on “Does death really matter so little?

  1. whistle blower

    Saturday 15th June 2013 at 6:57 pm

    When I worked for the coop I sadly lost a very close family member. I foolishly let the coop do the funeral. Whilst my family lay in the funeral home. I was phoned by the manager to be told I had to return to work whilst my loved one lay in rest. Funeral care compassion don’t exist

  2. Thursday 13th June 2013 at 3:08 pm

    With my ‘human being’ hat on I would gladly sign this, but with my ’employer’ hat on I wouldn’t. It’s not as clear cut as all that. An employee taking 6 months off could cripple a small business.

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