When your employee experiences the death of someone close to them, bereavement leave can give them time to step away from work and come to terms with their loss without worrying about the impact on their income. Learn more about bereavement leave entitlements, rules, and exceptions in this complete guide.

Who can request bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave is available to full-time and part-time employees who have been employed continuously for six months or more.

When can an employee take bereavement leave?

Your employee may take bereavement leave after experiencing the loss of an immediate family member. In some situations, your employee may take bereavement leave when someone outside of their immediate family has died and you agree that they’ve suffered a bereavement as a result. “Immediate family” is defined as a spouse, partner, parent, child, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or a spouse or partner’s parent.

In March 2021, the New Zealand Government passed a Bill that would introduce three days of paid bereavement leave for parents after a miscarriage or stillbirth. The Bill also applies to parents having a child through adoption or surrogacy if the pregnancy ends by miscarriage or stillbirth.

The same eligibility rules for bereavement leave apply: parents are eligible after six months of continuous employment; they can take this leave at any time and for any purpose relating to the loss of their baby; employees don’t have to take this leave straight away or on consecutive days. The law change doesn’t provide bereavement leave for termination of pregnancy. Depending on the circumstances, mothers may be eligible to use sick leave following a pregnancy termination. This Bill is likely to pass into law later this year.

How many days of leave can someone take for bereavement leave?

In New Zealand, bereavement leave allows for a minimum entitlement of three full days of paid leave each time a member of the immediate family or household dies, or one full day’s paid leave if they have lost someone close to them who was outside of their immediate family.

These paid leave days can be taken in one continuous amount or as individual days.

Can employees accrue bereavement leave?

Unlike annual leave and sick leave, bereavement leave does not accrue based on an employee’s ordinary hours of work. An employee is entitled to the above days per bereavement – regardless of how many happen in a year. If an employee suffers multiple bereavements on a single occasion, this entitlement is available for each loss.

As this leave doesn’t accrue, it’s not paid out on termination nor does it ‘roll over’ from year to year like annual leave and sick leave. When an employee accesses this leave, you simply pay them at their relevant daily rate for the hours they would have worked.

Can bereavement leave be denied? 

Whilst you’d hate to think your workers would abuse bereavement leave, we’ve all heard of the situation where someone tries to get away with bereavement leave for the same relative numerous times. If you have reasonable suspicions about any abuse of bereavement leave, you’re within your rights to ask your employee to provide proof that they’re taking the leave for the proper purpose. An example of this evidence may be a death certificate or statutory declaration.

Due to the sensitive nature of this kind of request, discretion is vital in this area. Evidence is something you should only choose to request in suspicious circumstances.

What if an employee does not have enough bereavement leave?

It’s not uncommon for employers to agree to offer additional or alternative leave to support an employee through the loss of a loved one. Below are three common situations where the minimum bereavement leave entitlements may not be enough and what you can do as an employer to offer additional support.

1. Bereavement leave when your employee isn’t eligible

If your employee has been working with you for less than six months, they won’t be eligible for bereavement leave entitlements. However, you may agree with your employee to provide bereavement leave to them. You could agree that this is paid or unpaid, or even that it is an advance on annual leave. Because it’s an agreement, it can be whatever you feel is appropriate, as long as you’re consistent with all employees.

2. Culture and bereavement leave 

In some cultures, there are significant ceremonies and customs to help people with the grieving process. An employee may need more than the minimum entitlements for paid bereavement leave to process their grief or attend to rituals. It’s wise to learn about different cultural expectations after the death of a family member so that you’re not caught off guard and can be confident that you’re being fair to your employee when making a decision.

In addition to the minimum entitlement, an employer could agree to additional time, either paid or unpaid. It’s possible to negotiate the use of existing entitlements such as annual leave to add to the requested bereavement leave.

3. Migrant workers and bereavement leave

With many employees in New Zealand being on a visa, international travel time can be a common concern. While your workplace may feel the impact of your employee being away for an extended period of absence, you should also consider the impact on your employee’s well-being if they feel unable to spend enough time with their family. You can risk losing an employee altogether if they decide that being with their family is non-negotiable.

Is it possible to agree on a way to handle the travel time that has the least impact on your business and the maximum benefit for the employee? Yes, and some of the ways you can make this work is by offering unpaid leave and flexible working arrangements, an advance on annual leave or special leave.

How you handle bereavement leave is often based on each situation, but don’t forget that your employees will notice and form opinions on how you make each decision. Essentially, your choices will contribute to your employees’ trust levels that can build or break a workplace culture, so make empathy central to your decision making in these situations – it’s a vital leadership skill!

Bereavement leave and other entitlements

When an employee is on annual leave and experiences bereavement, they can ask that you change some of their leave into bereavement leave. Leave entitlements and balances are affected by how leave is classified, so it’s important to manually revise the annual and bereavement leave balances when you change the leave type. You’re also entitled to ask for proof if you have any concerns about making this change.

When you change a leave type, this also affects the employee’s pay. Bereavement leave is paid out like sick leave on a daily pay calculation. In comparison, annual leave is paid out on a weekly pay calculation. Because of these differences, it’s necessary to recalculate the relevant pay period accordingly to ensure the pay and leave entitlements are correct.

The importance of a bereavement leave policy

As an employer, having a clear bereavement leave policy is essential to help you and your managers know what you can do to support a grieving employee. Your policy should clearly outline company expectations and your employees’ rights around paid and unpaid time off from work when they lose a family member or someone close to them.

Our friendly workplace relations experts at HR Assured can help you tailor and update your bereavement leave policy, which you can keep safe and secure in HRA Cloud. Want to learn more? Contact us today to find out how HR Assured can help you and your business!