Written by Sam Dow

9th March 2021

It is sadly possible that one or more of your employees will have been affected by Covid and perhaps experienced the serious illness or loss of a friend or family member.

Any bereavement is difficult but those that are Covid-related could be more so. Lots of people have been unable to attend funerals or be comforted by friends and family outside of their household.

Managers and employers should take a sympathetic approach if an employee is going through this. Here are some of the ways you can support your teams:

Be compassionate

For some people, work is an important coping mechanism. It may be a welcome distraction and your employees may find it provides some normality and routine, even when that is only logging on remotely.  However, an employee should feel valued and supported – not pressured into returning to work.

It’s important for managers to be aware that not everyone will deal with bereavement in the same way, so in offering your support, be led by what the employee wants.

Managers must also limit their expectations of those experiencing grief and don’t assume they’ll be able to perform at their same level straight away – even if they are keen to get back to work.

Signpost Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs)

Not only do people grieve in different ways, but also at different speeds. The impact of bereavement may be long-term and someone who seems to be coping in the short-term may have setbacks at any stage.

As an employer or manager, you need to be sure staff are getting the wellbeing support they need. You may have Employee Assistance and Mental Health programmes offering confidential advice and support, or trained members of staff who employees can confide in. Remember that employees may not want to share their feelings with their line manager or colleagues, so make sure they are being told about and encouraged to use the services you offer.

Have bereavement and leave policies in place

It is likely your business will have a policy in place for bereavement, which may have been updated recently in light of the pandemic. But ensuring managers know and understand these will help them to provide the right guidance to staff.

It is also good practice to have a Compassionate Leave Policy, if you don’t already. For example, your policy might include a set amount of paid compassionate leave per year. If someone has to use these days but needs more time off, you can allow them more compassionate leave. Whether you offer more paid leave is up to you – but we advise that you be consistent with each employee to avoid discrimination.

You could also explore other types of leave that can be offered, such as holiday or unpaid, or flexible working or reduced hours for the employee.

Returning to work

If your employee is struggling, they might not want to talk and ask someone else to contact you on their behalf. If this happens, allow them time and perhaps send an email or call them a few days later to check in. During their time off work, keep in touch with the employee, but be careful not to pressure them into making any decisions until they are ready.

It might not be appropriate to talk about returning to work in the first few days or even weeks of bereavement but keeping in touch can allow you to have an open discussion about how the employee is coping, when they might be ready to return to work and any adjustments that might help with this, for example a phased return or a temporary change of their role – try to be as flexible as possible.

Offer ongoing support

Once they have returned to work, your employee may need extra support or further time off at a later stage. This might be because of issues affecting their performance such as not being able to concentrate, or a mental health condition. They could now have extra responsibilities as a result of the bereavement such as looking after a dependent.

How your workplace deals with requests for extra support or time off should be covered in your absence policies. Even if you do not have a policy, you must follow the statutory policies for time off set out by law such as time of for dependents.

Make sure you talk to the employee and discuss what’s best for their physical and mental health in the long term.

Whether you need help in putting together an effective bereavement or compassionate leave policy, or need some advice from our team, we can help navigate this sensitive topic. Please get in touch here.