As an employer, there are two very important things you can do to support bereaved employees: create a culture where it’s okay to talk about bereavement and offer practical support.

Openness in the workplace

Talking about death can be difficult at the best of times, but when it’s an employee who has been bereaved it can be all too easy to have that initial painful conversation and then tick it off your To Do list.

But everyone’s experience of grief is different, and everyone’s family and support structures are different so try to keep the conversation open and be led by your employee. Offer your condolences, reassure them that it’s OK not to come into work if they don’t want to, and don’t put a time frame on grieving.

Remember that who a person is close to and bereaved by the death of, is not always governed by how closely they were tied by blood. In some cases, the loss of an aunt, cousin or friend can be felt more keenly than a parent.

Some people may not want to talk about their loss in the workplace, while others may want to talk about it openly. As soon as it feels sensitive, ask your employee what approach they would like to take.

  • Would they like you to tell their colleagues or would they want to do this themselves?
  • How do they feel about taking time off work?
  • If they take time off, how would they like to keep in touch – by phone, email or face-to-face online?

Then make sure you follow up on your conversation at regular intervals, especially when they return to work if they have taken time off. Depending on the circumstances, you both might think that a phased return would be more suitable than an immediate return to their previous way of working.

Bereavement leave

Your employees have the right to time off if a dependant dies. This includes a spouse, partner or civil partner or a parent of a child under 18. There’s no legal right for an employer to pay for bereavement leave, but many organisations will have a bereavement policy, which may include a certain number of days of paid bereavement leave, depending on the circumstances. Check your organisation’s bereavement policy.

There are separate rules for time off work when a child aged under 18 years dies, or if an employee or their partner has a stillbirth or miscarriage. You can find out more on the Acas time off work for bereavement  pages.

Bereavement policy

If your organisation doesn’t already have a bereavement policy, develop one – or ask your HR manager to do this. This will give all managers and employees guidance about what they can expect if they experience a bereavement.

Acas has developed a bereavement policy template , which covers who can receive bereavement support at work, paid and unpaid leave (including parental bereavement leave) and managing the return to work.

Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)

Some larger organisations offer an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to help their employees deal with personal issues that might affect their psychological health and wellbeing, and their ability to do their job. This should include giving support to people who have been bereaved, including getting counselling.

If you have an EAP in your organisation and are supporting a bereaved person, remind them about its existence. These schemes are independent and confidential, so the details of the support they receive shouldn’t be revealed to you. You might like to remind your employee of this too.

Find out more

See Hospice UK's Compassionate Employers hub  where there are tools and information to support you with wellbeing and bereavement in the workplace.

Related pages

  • Supporting an employee while they are ill: find out what rights at work your employee has and establish what other support there might be for them; then talk about what they need from you and agree on a plan.
  • When a member of staff dies: when a colleague dies, think about how you will support the family of the employee who has died, as well as other colleagues.
  • Looking after yourself: advice for looking after both yourself and others following the death of someone important to you.

The EPiC Resource Centre is kindly sponsored by Cleenol: working for a cleaner, safer, kinder world.