Parental bereavement leave is a good start but employers need to do more

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New laws that give employees the right to two weeks’ paid leave if they suffer the loss of a child would be a significant step forward in supporting grieving parents in the short term. However employers also need to consider how to support grieving parents well beyond this fortnight and should also consider the impact on close colleagues too, according to RedArc Nurses.

Christine Husbands, managing director, RedArc said: “When someone loses a child, the shock and disbelief is overwhelming. No one expects that their child will die before them as this is not the order of things.

“The most effective approach any organisation can take is to acknowledge the employee’s loss and ask how the company can help: everyone’s grief is unique and the way one parent responds to the death of a child may be very different from another.

“It can take weeks, months or even years to make sense of the loss of a child, so whilst this new parliamentary bill is very much a step in the right direction and helpful in highlighting the issue, two weeks’ paid leave doesn’t even begin to touch the sides.

“Some employees may find that being in work is a helpful distraction from their loss, but employers need to take their lead from the bereaved individual in terms of how much they want to work, how much they want to talk about their child’s death and what would help them most. Flexible working hours, flexible locations, extended breaks in the working day may all be beneficial to help deal with the various symptoms of grief such as sleep disturbance, anxiety, anger, lack of concentration etc – the employee is unlikely to be able to return to their usual capacity for quite some time so employers’ expectations need to be suitably adjusted.

“Colleagues and managers may also be unsure about how to handle the situation which can lead to a general lack of communication in order to ‘not say the wrong thing’. This can cause additional stress for the bereaved if they feel they are being excluded or treated differently.

“Both the grieving parent and close colleagues may benefit from the expertise of a third party to help them deal with their feelings and come to terms with the loss. This can be delivered directly or offered as an added-value service such as via employee assistance programmes, protection insurance, private medical insurance and cashplans. Insurers and employers should be aware that the content of such support services can vary significantly: where very light-touch helplines are provided, the continuity and content of the support is likely to be lacking.

“There is no ‘right way’ to grieve, and therefore a very specific, one-size-fits-all policy simply doesn’t work in most cases. Employers need to be flexible and think beyond a two-week period if they really want to help staff at this extremely harrowing time.”

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