Managing grief in the workplace: parental leave is the right move, but more is needed.

parental leave

Back in February 2022, the Northern Ireland Government past new legislation known as Parental leave. This new legislation allows parents two weeks leave after the death of a child or stillbirth with full pay. We can all agree things are moving in the right direction, but should the same leave be provided when a parent or partner dies?

Managing Director Neil McLeese spoke to Newsletter and highlighted how more is needed for dealing with the challenges of grief, especially when managing grief in the workplace.

The new parental leave legislation began in April 2022 with further legislation to be introduced for anyone who suffers a miscarriage. Only a few countries worldwide have this legislation within employment rights, indicating this is a progressive move by the Northern Ireland Government.

As Neil discussed with the Newsletter; ‘It is certainly great to see Northern Ireland introducing new legislation that will provide vital support to bereaved parents during an unimaginable time.

However, it begs the question – why does such legislation have to be ring-fenced around parents alone? Surely anyone who suffers a profound loss should be entitled to the same measures.’

Law prior to Parental leave

Prior to April 2022, the business had complete control over how much leave an employee could have in order to work through their grief.  Many businesses especially in the last year, could not afford to have an employee off for more than a week, due to staff shortages and business requirements.

Leading to grieving individuals being forced to return to work before they were mentally fit to do so. This leads to frustrated employees who are demotivated due to feeling ill-treated, employee’s performance may decrease for a period of time. Lower levels of productivity may decrease business outputs.

Managing grief in the workplace

Everyone reacts to grief in different ways and as Neil said ‘it is safe to say there can’t be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy when it comes to leave’. Meaning business may be best manage grief on a case-by-case outlook, supporting the employee as best the business can. Grief has no limits and can continue to impact a person for a long time, even after a period time where they have felt okay.

Forcing employees back to work before they have dealt with their grief fully, can prolong the process and intensify the situation for them. Decreasing their mental wellbeing.

Business should accept that the employee will require an adequate period of time away from the business following the death of parent, child, partner, or grandparent. This can play a part of the company’s culture and values, if deemed to force employees back quickly could negatively impact the employees’ attitude towards the company.

Do not assume the employee will return and begin preforming at their normal working level, line managers should have transitions in place to gradually reintroduce the employee back to all responsibilities and lower their expectations of their capabilities. Alongside this, employees should be reassured on the bases they will not expect judgement or loss of earning during this difficult time.

Parental leave is the right move, but more is needed

When we say this, we truly mean parental leave introduction is a fantastic move by the Northern Ireland Government, but further action is needed to ensure all those experiencing grief have the time to manage and deal with it effectively. Dealing with grief takes multiple sources of support from family members, friends, and employers.

We would suggest pushing forward with extending Parental Leave to ‘Bereavement Leave’ in employment law allowing adequate time for employees to manage their suffering.  Allowing them to return the work when they are more ready compared to being forced back into work.

Does your company require assistant for managing grief in the workplace? Including if you feel the employee should have returned already.  Call or email us for guidance on how to manage this effectively to not damage company culture and not impact the employee’s mental wellbeing.

Contact us for further guidance on how your business can support employees during periods of grief.

Call on 0800 111 4461

Email: Enquiries@wegobeyondhr.com