Compassionate Leave: Vague legal guidelines and ‘culture of presenteeism’ cause millions to take less time off than needed

Dan Garret, CEO of Farewill
  • The average UK worker takes less than a week away from work (4.8 days) to deal with a bereavement.
  • Social Care workers take the least time off, just 2.8 days.
  • 61% found requesting time off a stressful experience and 79% say guidelines around time off for bereavement should be more definitive. 
  • Younger employees fear taking time off will affect their career progression; 62% of those who felt requesting time off was difficult say their office has ‘a culture of presenteeism’.
  • Death experts Farewill say “fundamental change” is needed to compassionate leave as they share a policy template and guidelines any employer can adapt for their own business

WHEN it comes to taking leave to deal with bereavement, vague legal guidelines around pay, time and situation are making a difficult time even worse, causing stress and confusion for millions of working people in the UK.

Currently, UK workers have no legal entitlement to paid leave if their spouse, parent or best friend dies. More than this, the law simply states that any time off given should be ‘reasonable’. An overwhelming 79% of respondents agreed these guidelines should be more definitive.

The vagueness of these guidelines leaves many workers facing problems in taking time off to deal with a death. 61% of those who had taken compassionate or bereavement leave said they’d found requesting the time off a stressful experience. The most common reasons for this included:

  1. Having no idea what their company policy was.
  2. Feeling too overwhelmed by grief to properly consider how much time was needed.
  3. Feeling that they needed more time than they were given.
  4. Worrying that colleagues would think they were taking too much time off.

“We’d love to see the government do much more to help workers and employers deal with compassionate leave in a way that’s fair for everyone” says Dan Garrett, CEO of Farewill. “The current lack of guidance means that the amount of time and support someone is given to deal with a death is a lottery based on where they work. It’s time for fundamental change.”

Taking time off to grieve can be particularly tough for those just starting out in their careers. A staggering 98% of those aged 18-24 said they found asking for time off stressful with worries around career progression and office presenteeism highest in this age group.

Alarmingly, the time people are able to take varies wildly based on their industry sector. Those working in social care took on average 2.8 days off work, just a third of the time taken by those working in marketing and PR.

Most time off (days)                                         Least time off (days)

1. Marketing and PR (8)                                      1. Social care (2.8)

2. Science and pharmaceuticals (6.4)                   2. Information research (3.3)

3. Journalism and publishing (6)                          3. Insurance and pensions (3.4)

= 4. Property and construction (5.9)                    4. Media and internet (3.5)

= 4. Leisure and sport (5.9)                                5. Law enforcement and security (3.6)

Dan Garret, CEO of Farewill: “Every day we’re talking to people experiencing a bereavement, and we understand how death can impact someone’s life and their ability to work. We’ve updated our own policy to ensure team members have the time they need to grieve. Our company mission is to change the way the world deals with death, that’s why we’ve decided to make our policy and guidelines available to all; our hope is this will lead to positive change in other businesses.”

When respondents were asked what they thought was a fair amount of time to take off, 6.5 days was the average response, a 35% increase over the 4.8 days people typically take.

The Farewill policy suggests the following:

  • 10 days of additional paid leave so team members can grieve and get the support they need.
  • Death can be unpredictable, so team members can take up to 10 days of paid leave for each situation, rather than each year.
  • Do not define “closeness” or ask team members about their relationship to the person or what they meant to them. Many companies prescribe when people can take compassionate leave depending on the official relationship to the person who’s died. That’s not how life works, and different relationships have different meanings for all of us.
  • Situations compassionate leave will cover include:
  • Someone you love dies or is terminally ill 
  • Someone around you, like your partner, is experiencing grief or terminal illness 
  • Taking time off for particular occasions (like a funeral, or the birthday or anniversary of someone who’s died)
  • Pregnancy loss such as miscarriage, abortion and stillbirth (including for partners and surrogate mothers)

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