Is There a Legal Right to Bereavement Leave ?
The Employment Rights Act 1996
There is no legal right for you to take bereavement or compassionate leave, however many employers make allowance for this in the employment contract. If there is no contractual right, you can rely on the statutory right to take unpaid time off for dependants in Section 57(A) of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Under these provisions, you have a right to take reasonable time off during working hours in order to;
- Provide assistance when a dependant falls ill, gives birth, is injured or assaulted.
- Make arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured, or to deal with an unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for that person’s care.
- Deal with an incident that involves their child and which occurs unexpectedly during the time when an educational establishment is responsible for that child.
- Deal with the consequences of the death of a dependant.
- You have this right from your first day at work. Your employer does not have to pay you, but could do so through a special or compassionate leave policy.
The Equality Act 2010
Employees with protected characteristics are protected from unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 – see Protected Characteristics. If you have religious beliefs or customs that you have to carry out in bereavement then your employer should accommodate you. If not you could have a claim for discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief – see Discrimination at Work.
If the death of your family member causes you ill health such as anxiety and depression you can take sick leave. In certain circumstances such ill-health may be regarded as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 and your employer will have to make reasonable adjustments for you.
Miscarriages and Stillbirth
Before 24 weeks of pregnancy
If a child is lost in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, the loss is not regarded as “childbirth” in law, and so you would not be entitled to any rights under maternity legislation. This would be a pregnancy -related illness and your employer should deal with this situation under the sickness procedure. Your sick pay should not be less than the sick-pay of your colleagues who are not pregnant.
You should not be treated unfavourably by your employer during the protected period because of a pregnancy-related illness. It would be unlawful pregnancy and maternity discrimination under section 18(2) of the Equality Act 2010, and any dismissal would be automatically unfair.
You should also not be subjected to detriment by your employer. This would be discriminatory and unlawful under Regulation 19 of the Maternity and Paternity Leave etc. Regulations 1999.
Your partner is entitled to time off for dependants under section 57A of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
After 24 weeks of pregnancy
If you suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, you are entitled to up to 52 weeks statutory maternity leave and pay. Your maternity leave will start the day after the loss.
Your partner may be entitled to statutory paternity leave and pay as well as time off for dependants.
Last Updated: [27/10/2021]