Managing employee bereavement

Managing bereavement law and discrimination


All employees have the right to a 'reasonable' amount of unpaid time off to deal with an emergency, such as a bereavement involving a dependant.

This could be a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or someone who depends on the employee for care.

'Reasonable' is not defined in law and will depend on the situation. You do not have to pay an employee for this time away from work but many employers offer paid special or compassionate leave.

See parental leave and time off for dependants.

Discrimination on the grounds of religious belief

You should consider any request for time off in connection with bereavement from an employee in a reasonable and objective manner.

The Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998, as amended, protects employees from discrimination because of their religion or belief.

You should try and accommodate religious beliefs and customs where it would be reasonable and practicable to do so.

Many religions have bereavement requirements and you should carefully consider these against the business reasons for not observing the belief or custom.

Discrimination because of disability

For some employees, the effects of loss and grief can amount to a disability (eg depression) where the effects are long term (generally defined as lasting or likely to last over a year) and the impact affects the employee's ability to undertake day-to-day activities.

An employee with a disability has the right to reasonable adjustments and you should take reasonable actions to reduce or remove the effect of the impairment on the employee at work.

You should also ensure your employees are aware of the disability and be alert to recognise it, especially when performance or absence of a bereaved employee becomes unacceptable over the longer term.

Read more on how to prevent discrimination and value diversity.

In addition, read Equality Commission guidance for employers.

Addressing bullying and harassment

Bullying can include offensive or insulting behaviour by another employee which makes an individual feel threatened or the humiliation of an employee.

Harassment is defined as any unwanted conduct related to race, age, sex, marital/civil partnership status, gender reassignment, disability, religion/belief or sexual orientation that has the purpose or effect of either:

  • violating the dignity of an individual
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for an individual

You should be alert to inappropriate behaviour following bereavement. Absence through bereavement can place burdens on co-workers and line managers.

A bereaved employee may be pressurised (inadvertently or otherwise) or bullied/harassed into returning to work or performing their duties to the same level as they did before the death.

The intentions of the bully/harasser do not matter - what is important is the impact that the behaviour has on the employee who is being bullied/harassed.

Read more on bullying and harassment.

See further guidance from the Equality Commission for employers and service providers.