Do you have the right to time off work when a family member or a pet dies?

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Do you have the right to time off work when a family member or a pet dies?

View profile for Kirsty Hunt
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In recent news, Emma McNulty (18) was sacked from her job for taking a day off work when her beloved family dog sadly died. This has caused much discussion in the media about the right to time off work, particularly when suffering a bereavement. So do you have the right to time off when a family member or a pet sadly passes away? The short answer is no. Unfortunately, there is no statutory right to time off for any kind of bereavement, and this will be at the discretion of your employer. 

Most employers recognise that when a close family member or friend dies, this will be a difficult time and they will usually allow for a short amount of paid time off (usually 1-2 days leave). However, this will be dependent upon the terms of your contract of employment and/or any policy your employer has in place. Such leave could be referred to as “bereavement leave” or “compassionate leave”. You will not usually be given time off in respect of distant relatives. If your employer does not allow for this within the terms of your contract or under a policy at work, you would need to discuss and agree on other options, such as taking unpaid leave or using your annual leave. 

Legally, there is only a statutory right to “time off for dependants”, where you can take a reasonable amount of time off to deal with unforeseen emergencies involving a dependant. A “dependant” could be a spouse, partner, child, parent or anyone else that depends on you, such as an elderly neighbour. Time off for dependants could include leave to arrange or attend a funeral. Parents who are eligible also have the statutory right to take time off unpaid to care for a child under the age of 18. 

New Parental Bereavement Leave to come into force in April 2020

In April 2020 new legislation is set to come in which will give parents who lose a child under the age of 18 the right to two weeks statutory bereavement leave and pay. This will be available to all legal parents and guardians who have day-to-day responsibility for the child and will include parents who have suffered a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Parents and guardians will be able to take the leave as a single two-week block or as two separate weeks, and the leave must be taken within 56 weeks of the child’s death.

This development is the first step in recognising the need for parents to have time to grieve the loss of a child. 

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