The second Gateley Plc Employment webinar took place last Thursday.
The focus of the “Managing Employee Absence” webinar dealt with the problems that may arise in relation to sickness absence. The attendance was fantastic and there was a long list of questions posed during the hour.
One of those questions raised the issue of bereavement.
“How do you manage people being signed off for an extended period of time for something like bereavement and the length of time they have been signed off, is longer than our internal policy allows for?”
Clearly the employer had put in place a bereavement leave policy that allowed for the employee to take a certain amount of time off.
However the employee was signed off sick, and even though we would not necessarily associate bereavement as being an illness in itself, the absence would need to be handled as a sickness absence in accordance with their sickness policy.
The fact that this particular employer had in place a policy that provided for bereavement leave would not prevent the employee from signing off as sick.
Coincidentally just the day before the live webinar the Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill was introduced in parliament. This proposed to give employed parents a statutory right to paid time off to grieve on the death of a child.
Sound familiar? There was the Conservative Party’s Election manifesto that said it would grant a two-week period of paid leave for parents whose child had died. Yet this was not in the Queen speech. This is being brought as a Private Member’s Bill.
Will it then become law? Similar attempts were made to introduce these rights in 2013, 2014 and as recent as 2016. All were unsuccessful.
In this Parliament, with the not inconsiderable amount of ministerial time that will have to be spent on Brexit, it appears that this latest attempt may suffer the same fate.
It leaves employees in the situation that they have few rights when they suffer a bereavement. They may rely on their statutory right to ‘reasonable’ unpaid time off for an emergency involving a dependant, and that would include that person’s death. ‘Dependants’ include spouses, civil partners, children or parents, or someone who lives in the same household as a family member. However, this is not a right to compassionate leave. The right to take time off is only for the purpose of taking necessary action, such as making funeral arrangements or applying for probate, rather than taking time to grieve. There is uncertainty as to what amounts to a ‘reasonable’ time off and importantly the right is only for unpaid, not paid, leave.
Of course some employees will have a close enough relationship with their employer that they can feel confident that paid leave will be agreed in any event if they make the request.
However for many the fact they have no legal right to time off and cannot afford to lose pay will mean that they seek to take the time off as sickness absence.
The Webinar Managing Employee Absence is now available on demand here.
This blog post was written by Christopher Davies and Heather Aust. For further information, please contact:
Christopher Davies, professional support lawyer, Employment
T: 0161 836 7936
Heather Aust, senior associate, Employment
T: 0161 836 7942