Bereavement leave from work

If you are employed, you are entitled to some bereavement leave from work when a loved one dies. However, there is currently no set legal amount of leave. It can really help to know your rights, how the system works and what the rules are around pay.

A woman feeling sad at work

How much time off work you are allowed is very much dependent on individual employers. Here is some basic guidance about what you may be able to ask for, and how the system works in the UK.

If you are self-employed or a contractor, then there are no legal entitlements for leave, although it may help if you can explain what is happening to the person you are working for early on.

Am I entitled to bereavement leave?

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, most employees have the right to a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid time off to allow them to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies involving a dependant - including taking leave from work to arrange or attend a funeral.

By law, a ‘dependant’ can be your spouse or civil partner, child, parent or anyone who lives in the same household (unless they are an employee, tenant or lodger). It can also be someone who usually depends on you for care or for help during an emergency.

If the person who has died does not fall into one of these categories, then you do not have any specific rights. It is up to your employer whether they allow you to take leave.

Your right to take time off work is subject to you letting your employer know the reason for your absence as soon as reasonably possible (unless it is an emergency, in which case it should be on your return to work).

  • You must also tell them how long you expect to be away from work.
  • You don’t have to let them know in writing.
  • You do need to give them enough information to determine whether you are entitled to the time off as part of your statutory rights.

How long can I have off work after a bereavement?

There is no set legal amount of time off work you are entitled to after someone has died. It is common for employers to give about three to five days, but all organisations have different policies and/or exercise their discretion differently.

If your employer has a bereavement leave or compassionate leave policy, this should set out your entitlement. If they don’t have a policy, it is at their discretion as to how reasonable they are prepared to be.

Your employer will need to treat all members of staff consistently and could be bound by previous custom and practice. In some cases, you may be asked to use part of your holiday allowance.

Because the time people are allowed off is often short, you may have to make difficult choices in the run up to someone dying. Having a limited amount of time off work can make it difficult to be with your loved one at the end.

This can add to the stress and anxiety of coping when someone you care about is dying. Most hospices have a social worker who can help you with financial issues and may be able to help you plan how you can afford to take the time you need.

What if I need more time off work to grieve?

You might be glad to get back to work, as it provides a distraction and a way to fill their time. However, you may well feel you are too distressed to go back to work. Again, it is at the discretion of your employer how much leave they offer you and whether they extend this.

If you feel that you need longer than your employer has offered, then you can apply to use some of your annual leave. Immediately after your friend or relative has died may not be the only time that you feel you need time off.

Most people who are grieving for a friend or relative find it incredibly difficult to work on particular days, such as birthdays and anniversaries.

Some employers may allow you to take additional compassionate leave around these times, although it is also very common for people to take these days as sick leave.

At the moment I can't get through a couple of hours without crying, and I can't contemplate being able to cope at work.

‘Going back to work’ - a post from our Online Bereavement Community

Will I be paid for bereavement leave?

You do not have a statutory right to be paid for any time you take off around the time or after your friend or relative dies. But many companies do offer some paid bereavement leave – so it’s worth checking your contract of employment your company’s policy on compassionate leave if they have one.

Unfortunately, if you are employed you might find that you can’t afford to take the time off that you need. And, if you are self-employed, you will not be able to take any paid time off. If this is the case, most hospices have a social worker who can help you with financial issues and what bereavement benefits you may be entitled to, or you can contact Citizens Advice.

What if my employer won’t give me the time off work?

We hope that your employer will be sympathetic to what you are going through. But if your employer refuses to give you time off, then you can raise an informal grievance. You can get support and advice about this from Citizens Advice, ACAS and your union (if you are a member of one).

Parental bereavement leave and pay

If you are an employee or worker, you are entitled to two weeks' statutory parental bereavement leave and pay if your child has died under the age of 18 or they are stillborn after 24 weeks’ pregnancy. 

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has lots of helpful information on parental bereavement leave and pay to help you during what will be an extremely difficult time. They explain who is eligible for parental bereavement leave, how much you can claim on a weekly basis and advise on giving notice of leave to your employer.

Entitlements after the death of a dependant

A dependant can be your child, your parent, your spouse, partner or civil partner or simply someone who relies on you.

Although there is currently no legal right to bereavement leave if a dependant has died, ACAS also provide advice on taking time off for a dependant to help you.