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How to write an employee bereavement policy

Having a plan in place for bereavement leave lets you concentrate on supporting a grieving employee

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The law on bereavement leaveWhat is a bereavement policy?Why do employers need a bereavement leave policy?How to write a bereavement policy

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Only 32% of employees are aware that their employer has a bereavement leave policy. But determining how you’ll handle this situation ahead of time is key to treating every employee fairly, and to helping you and your managers feel more comfortable dealing with a bereavement at work.

Having a plan in place for bereavement leave, and who’s responsible for what, exactly, lets you concentrate on what matters most: providing effective support to the employee going through an incredibly difficult time. 

The law on bereavement leave

It may come as a surprise to learn that there’s no law to protect an employee’s right to bereavement leave (apart from parental bereavement leave, which we talk about in more detail below). But, the Employment Rights Act 1996 does give employees the right to take time off work to deal with an emergency — and that includes the death of a dependent. 

“An employee is entitled to be permitted by his employer to take a reasonable amount of time off during the employee’s working hours in order to take action which is necessary in consequence of the death of a dependent.”

— Employment Rights Act 1996

Acas classes a dependent as:

  • Husband, wife, civil partner, or partner
  • Child
  • Parent
  • A person who lives in the same household (but not an employee, tenant, or lodger)
  • A person who relied on them, like an elderly neighbour

Note the act says ‘a reasonable amount of time’. In other words, it's up to you, the employer, to decide how much time off for bereavement someone can take. 

The second thing to note is that this act doesn’t say whether bereavement leave should be paid or unpaid. This means there’s no statutory right for an employee to be paid during bereavement leave. Many employers, however, do offer paid time off for bereavement, and it’s something we’d really urge you to do.

If the person who’s died isn’t a dependent, then your employee has no legal right to time off. This includes time off for a funeral or memorial, although again, many companies do grant this time. Rather than bereavement leave, this time off can be called ‘compassionate leave’ or ‘special leave’.

Parental bereavement leave

The only legal right to time off when it comes to bereavement leave is that of parental bereavement leave. Employers must legally provide two weeks of paid leave to any employee from the first day of their employment if a child under the age of 18 who has died or was stillborn. 


  • If an employee loses a child aged under 18 or has a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, you have to provide two weeks of paid parental bereavement leave
  • If an employee loses a dependent, they are legally entitled to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off work for bereavement
  • By law, time off for bereavement when a dependent dies doesn’t have to be paid
  • If the person who dies isn’t a dependent, your employee has no legal right to time off
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What is a bereavement policy?

A bereavement policy is a document outlining your company’s approach to a bereavement. Bereavement policies include information that’s important for both you and your employee to know, like how much bereavement leave is available, whether it's paid, and what the legal requirements are. 

Why offer bereavement leave?

Offering bereavement leave gives your employee the time and space to take care of things without worrying about work, like:

  • Mentally and physically processing their feelings of grief
  • Spending valuable time with family and loved ones
  • Planning and attending the funeral, memorial, or other cultural events
  • Telling family and friends about the death
  • Taking care of legal and financial matters
  • Thinking about the property and possessions

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Why do employers need a bereavement leave policy?

Supporting an employee through a bereavement at work can be a challenge as a manager. Grief affects everyone differently and its impact can be long-lasting: 58% of bereaved employees report that grief affected their performance at work months after the death of a loved one.

By adding a bereavement policy to your company’s policies and procedures, you’re making sure that all employees have access to the time off and support they need, and that managers have a clear framework for providing effective and fair support.

But, it’s not just a box-ticking exercise: how your company responds to a bereavement at work will have a huge impact on how your employee moves through an already difficult period. Having a bereavement policy in place ahead of time lets you provide the right care and support to help keep the wheels turning. 


56% of employees would consider leaving their job if their employer did not provide support if someone close to them died.

How to write a bereavement policy

Unlike other company policies, a bereavement policy should remain as flexible as possible: grief affects everyone differently, and what one bereaved employee needs from you will vary significantly from another. It should act as a guideline to treating employees fairly and with respect at a really difficult time, while leaving enough wiggle room to cater to individual circumstances. 

That being said, there are some key points that your bereavement policy should include 👇

  • Who’s eligible for bereavement leave (include specifics on contractors, casual or agency workers).
  • How much bereavement leave is available. It’s common for companies to offer between five days and two weeks of bereavement leave. 
  • Whether this leave is paid or unpaid. Marie Curie estimates that 70% of employers offer paid bereavement leave.
  • If paid leave isn’t possible or more time is needed, outline some other options for taking time off. This might mean taking unpaid leave or using some holiday. 
  • It’s important that whatever leave you offer, it’s offered regardless of someone’s relationship to the person who’s died. A loss doesn’t have to be a family member to affect someone profoundly. 
  • If extended time off for bereavement isn’t necessary, then detail the procedure for taking time off to pay respects or attend a funeral. Your policy should also think about staff who may need to travel abroad at short notice following a loss. 
  • Plenty of companies have started to cover losing a pet or a support animal in their bereavement leave policies, so think about whether you’d like to offer any days off in this circumstance, too. 

Communication procedures 📣

Your policy should also include a clear plan for:

  • Who to report a loss to (this will usually be a line manager)
  • Who the line manager needs to inform (like HR)
  • Who’s responsible for communicating with the family if someone in the team dies. 
  • Set some expectations about how to contact someone who’s on bereavement leave (this should be driven by the person who’s experienced the loss, but it’s a good idea to remind managers in your policy that it might not be appropriate to contact them too often, or over the phone).
  • You may need to conduct a health and safety assessment when someone comes back to work, depending on the roles and responsibilities of the bereaved employee. This is also the case if the death was related to an accident in the workplace. Add details in your policy about who’s responsible for getting this procedure rolling. 


👉 Our grief support plan for managers is a good place to start mapping out your employee’s return to work: you can download it at the bottom of this article. 

Support that’s available 🫶

Lastly, clearly signpost where your employee can get further support:


💙 Spill’s Starter Plan lets you give a specific employee access to really high-quality therapy. With no monthly cost, you’ll only pay for the therapy sessions used, and your bereaved employee has easy access to professional support during an incredibly difficult time.

7 tips for writing a successful bereavement policy

A few pointers for writing a bereavement policy that goes the extra mile:

  • Involve your team in the process: this is a policy for your company, so include the people it affects. Use employee surveys and team meetings to gather input.
  • Be flexible and accommodating of different religious or cultural practices around death.
  • Make sure your team knows about the bereavement policy: your managers should be familiar with it, and your team should know where to find it.
  • Review and update the policy regularly: we’d recommend reviewing your bereavement policy once a year to make sure it's up-to-date and in line with current employment legislation.
  • Treat every situation with compassion and empathy: the support you provide at this time will be integral to your employee’s journey through grief.
  • Ask other people in your network how they’ve written their bereavement policy: this is especially useful if you’ve never had a bereaved employee on your team. It can be a great help to hear from someone who has.

In truth, we hope you’ll never have to use this policy — but it helps to be prepared. If someone on your team does experience bereavement, you want to be able to spend time and energy supporting them rather than trying to figure out what the next steps are.

Spill helps you to spot when employees are struggling to cope, and gives them access to counsellors covering 80+ areas of expertise, including bereavement.

Learn more about Spill's counsellors
Submit document logo

Download our free grief support plan for managers

Use our support plan to understand the impact of grief at work and how you can support your bereaved employee to help them navigate the complex feelings of grief in the workplace