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Avoiding discrimination during workplace bereavement

Bereavement can have a devastating effect on people, and an impact on almost every aspect of life. That's why employees have a 'day one' right for a 'reasonable' time off work to deal with a bereavement involving a dependant.

What is reasonable depends on the situation. But when weighing this up, employers should be mindful of their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 not to treat employees less favourably because of a protected characteristic.

Bereavement and discrimination

The intersection of the two areas of employment law makes it important that employers are careful to accommodate religious beliefs and customs where it would be reasonable and practicable to do so.

For example, some religious or ethnic communities expect a prompt funeral followed by a period of mourning at home.

Refusing to allow an employee to attend religious rites after death, or to grieve in accordance with the demands of his or her culture, could be considered indirect discrimination.

Disability discrimination

The debilitating impact of grief can trigger depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health difficulties.

Employees experiencing such may be considered disabled in legal terms, when the condition is long-term and affecting their day-to-day activities.

Employers in these cases will have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to reduce or remove the effect of the impairment at work, such as modified job roles and higher sickness thresholds. Colleagues of the bereaved should also be made aware of the disability.

Bullying and harassment

Absences or falls in performance through bereavement can place a heavy burden on co-workers and line managers.

In response, they may be tempted to pressurise or bully a bereaved employee into returning to work or performing his or her duties to a level that the employee cannot manage.

It doesn't matter that the pressure is inadvertent or the intentions are benign. It could still amount to bullying if it is unwanted conduct that has the effect of 'violating an individual's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual'.

If the bullying is linked to a protected characteristic, then it's harassment.

So it's vital to monitor workplace dynamics after a bereavement, and for managers to be alert to inappropriate behaviour.

Acas publications and services

Acas has published pdf icon Managing bereavement in the workplace - a good practice guide [318kb] to help employers cope better with workplace bereavement.

Acas experts can visit your organisation, and work with you to develop an effective bereavement policy. Contact the Acas customer services team on 0300 123 1150 for more information.

Practical training in Handling difficult conversations and Skills for supervisors will help your managers deal with bereavement issues.

Further courses are available on Discrimination, Disability discrimination, Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010, and Discipline and grievance.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

This news content or feature has been generated by a third party. Commentary, opinion and content do not necessarily represent the opinion of Acas.

We recommend that you explore further information and advice available on this website, particularly within our Advice A-Z guidance pages. If you have questions about workplace rights and rules visit Helpline Online.

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