Compassionate Leave: should there be a statutory right to take time off?

October 18, 2016By BPS Family LawBlog

Sefton Kwasnik, Partner, Serious Injury/ Medical Profession, Defence and Inquests, examines the case that there should be a statutory right to take time off on compassionate or bereavement grounds.

I have years of experience representing families at inquest and advising upon issues when a sudden (or any) death may occur. My aim is to provide support and guidance to grieving individuals and families at a very sensitive time in their lives. Over the years I have seen first-hand the effects of grief and as a result I’m the Honorary Legal Officer for The Compassionate Friends, a charitable organisation of bereaved parents.

I believe there should be a statutory right to take time off on compassionate or bereavement grounds and I was interested to see Will Quince, Conservative MP for Colchester raise this issue in Parliament recently.

Mr Quince asked Parliament to amend the law so parents who have suffered the loss of a child are entitled to two weeks off work, paid at the rate of maternity leave.

Current law

At the moment there is no statutory right to take time off on compassionate or bereavement grounds. Under the Employment Rights Act of 1996 employees do have the right to take immediate and a ‘reasonable amount of time’ off for the death of a dependent. But there is no set limit as to how many days can be taken and no statutory right to be paid during this ‘reasonable amount of time’.

Employers

While most employers are extremely understanding towards their bereaved staff, sadly not all are. I would offer the following advice when taking time off on compassionate or bereavement grounds. ***

Stay in touch

As leave is granted for a ‘reasonable amount of time’ it’s advisable to stay in regular contact with your employers. Ensure lines of communication with your line manager or HR manager are open and keep them up to date. This transparency will make it easier to ask for more time if you need it and also smoothen your return to work.

Information

Be clear about how much you want your work colleagues to know about your bereavement. This information is private under data protection legislation. Also be clear if you want colleagues to contact you during this time.

Returning to work

Do not feel pressured to return to work sooner than you feel comfortable. Every bereavement is different and while some people cope best immersing themselves in work, others don’t. There will be ups and downs and in some cases the full emotional impact may not be felt for some time.
Set up regular reviews with your line manager to discuss how your return to work is going. You can agree any adjustments which may need to be made and any temporary or long-term changes in hours or responsibilities, for example.

For those suffering the death of a family member it is a tragic experience. The grieving person should be entitled to a statutory right to take time off on compassionate or bereavement grounds.

Seek Extra Help

If you are taking time away from work to deal with the death of a loved one then you may find it helpful during this time to liaise with a medical or other health care professionals. There are a variety of counselling services on offer which may be available to support the bereaved family member.

While Mr Quince’s amendments to the Employment Rights Act 1996 will take their time to get through
Parliament, I hope they do bring about change that’s desperately needed.

*** ACAS FOOTNOTE CURRENT AS AT SEPTEMBER 27 2016
When someone close dies, the last thing most people want to do is trawl through their contract of employment to see whether they are entitled to any compassionate leave. Neither would most people relish the prospect of an awkward conversation with a line manager, having to explain who died in order to justify a short period away.

All employees are entitled to ‘time off for dependants’. This is a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies involving a dependant, including leave to arrange or attend a funeral. A ‘dependant’ could be a spouse, partner, child, parent or anyone living in the household. It could also be someone who relies on an employee for their care or for help during an emergency, such as an elderly neighbour.

But what if the deceased is not a dependant? Many employers do have a policy for compassionate leave, which employees can find in their contracts or company handbooks. Experts maintain that writing paid compassionate bereavement leave into a contract can be a major support to employees, and have a long-term positive impact on their relationship with employers. Having a scheme in place is also helpful for managers, who can fall back on written policy and are spared the ordeal of having to assess the seriousness of the situation themselves.

Without such a scheme, it is up to employers to use their discretion, being as reasonable and as consistent as possible. Managers will have to have an eye on what the custom and practice has been in the past and apply precedents fairly and consistently. Even so, employees cannot expect to be granted leave automatically. When leave isn’t granted, they may have to use their holiday allowance.

At BPS Family Law we work closely with families at inquests. We offer practical advice along with a compassionate approach. We’re not about cashing in on people’s upset, we’re about achieving the best possible outcome for families.

If you’re looking for a lawyer to help you with any of the issues mentioned above, then you can get in touch with Sefton at [email protected] or by telephone on 0161 834 2623.

Father allowed only indirect contact with his children

October 13, 2016By BPS Family LawBlog, Uncategorized

A father who lashed out at his children in a restaurant has been told he can only have indirect contact with them for at least the next two years.

The case involved a couple who had three children together during their marriage.

Following the breakdown of the relationship, the father wanted to remove the children to Saudi Arabia but the court denied permission. He moved out of the family home to live a short distance away and direct contact was agreed.

During a contact visit with the two older children in a restaurant it was said that the father had lost control and kicked out at one or both of them, and had said things that had upset them greatly.

The father applied for a child arrangements order. The judge concluded that it was not in their interests to have face-to-face contact with the father and made an order for contact by telephone and Skype.

The children’s guardian recommended that the father be prevented from making a further court application for 12 to 18 months, but the judge made an order for two years.

The father appealed saying the judge had given too much weight to the restaurant incident and failed to provide a plan for working towards direct, unsupervised contact.

However, the Court of Appeal upheld the judge’s decision. It said several attempts at establishing contact arrangements had been made and had ended in a highly damaging incident in the restaurant. By the time that the case had gone back to court, the father had no longer been willing to participate in supervised contact.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.

Wife awarded divorce settlement that reflects lavish lifestyle

October 6, 2016By BPS Family LawDivorce Settlements

A wife has been granted a divorce settlement that is fair to her husband but reflects her lavish lifestyle during the marriage.

The case involved a couple who had been married for 12 years. The husband was from Saudi Arabia and the wife was an American. Their matrimonial home had been in England, and the wife and daughter continued to live there.

The husband, who was terminally ill, had been extremely wealthy before the marriage and had paid for them to live a very lavish lifestyle. The wife had a London flat and a US property in her name. She sought £62.8m to buy a London property as her main home, additional funds to buy an English holiday home and to retain her US home, and capitalised maintenance of £127m.

The issue was the extent to which the exorbitant standard of living enjoyed throughout the marriage should be reflected in the court’s assessment of the wife’s future needs.

The court held that her needs had to be assessed by reference, among other things, to the marital standard of living prior to the breakdown of the marriage. However, it was also important to be fair to the husband.

This meant that that the wife should be awarded enough to provide a comfortable, even lavish, lifestyle, but not necessarily at the same exorbitant level that she had enjoyed during the marriage.

This meant she had no realistic entitlement to an annual income that replicated the marital standard of living. It was not appropriate to include either capital or income provision for a second home in the UK. She could not expect to continue to travel by private jet, or for the husband to pay for teams of staff at her various homes.

The court ordered that she should have a housing fund of £18m to buy a London property. She could meet her reasonable needs with a net annual budget of £2.5m, which would reduce by 33% after 10 years and by a further 25% after a further 10 years.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.