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Experts say ‘fundamental change’ is needed to compassionate leave policies in the UK


By Ellen Ormesher | Senior Reporter

July 29, 2021 | 4 min read

Specialist death brand Farewill says “fundamental change” is needed to compassionate leave legislation as it develops a policy template and guidelines that any employer can adapt for their own business.

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New research has found that 79% of UK workers want compassionate leave laws tightened

New research carried out by OnePoll has revealed that almost 79% of UK workers believe the current government guidelines for compassionate leave should be more definitive.

Currently in the UK workers have no legal entitlement to paid leave if their spouse, parent or best friend dies, and any time off given just needs to be deemed ‘reasonable’ by their employer.

The time people are able to take varies greatly based on the industry sector. The marketing and PR industry scored highly as taking the most days off (up to 8), while the media and internet industries took among the least – just 3.5 days.

The vagueness of legislative guidelines, as well as the discrepancies between various organizations’ compassionate leave policies, has led to many workers facing problems in taking time off to deal with death – 61% of those who had taken compassionate or bereavement leave said they’d found requesting time off a stressful experience.

Reasons workers cited for not taking days off included: uncertainty around company policy and procedure, feeling too overwhelmed to ask for help, workers feeling worried that they needed more time than they were given, and worrying that colleagues would think they were taking too much time off.

Recent trends in workplace policy advancement have seen major employers including Publicis Groupe UK and Channel 4 implement policies for people bereaved by miscarriage, however specialist death brand Farewill says that fundamental change is needed within companies to address the gaps in national legislation around bereavement more generally.

“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, chief exec 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.”

What’s the issue?

  • The average UK worker takes less than a week away from work (4.8 days) to deal with a bereavement.

  • 61% found requesting time off a stressful experience and 79% say guidelines around time off for bereavement should be more definitive.

  • Younger employees in particular 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’.

What does the Farewill policy template recommend?

  • 10 days of additional paid leave so team members can grieve and get the support they need.

  • Team members can take up to 10 days of paid leave for each situation, rather than each year.

  • Not defining ‘closeness’ or asking team members about their relationship to the person or what they meant to them (many companies currently prescribe when people can take compassionate leave depending on the official relationship to the person who’s died).

What situations should a compassionate leave policy cover?

  • Someone you love dies or is terminally ill.

  • Someone around you, such as 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).

If you would like to learn more about how your firm can implement a specific miscarriage policy, click here.

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