When my father died, I was at Uni. There was no question of how much time I could take off. I took what I needed. My mother however, who was in the work force, was expected to take only 2 days leave to grieve.
This lived experience 30 years ago informs my decision to back memoleaves petition to increase bereavement leave.
The National Employment Standards, as set out by Fairwork Australia, allocates 2 days paid leave to grieve. This can be taken as two separate days or consecutively. As someone who has grieved the death of a significant person, I can safely say two days does not seem fair to me.
Memoleaves has started a change.org petition to increase bereavement leave to 10 days. Support #leavetogrieve.
Lets be honest; two days is certainly not enough time to grieve. Not really enough time to plan a ceremony. At best it may be enough time to attend a funeral. Indigenous Australian’s likewise, are only entitled to 2 days Sorry Business. Many will have to travel great distances back to their Community, and while there is some provision for extra travel time without pay, ceremony can take days, weeks, even months. Not attending means the spirit of the deceased may not be able to rest.
Australia is a multi-cultural society and many of these cultures have specific mourning practices. The Jewish custom of shiva, is for the immediate family and loved ones. Burial is within 24 hours. The bereaved are expected to adhere to 7 days of mourning in the home. This is a time when they will receive visitors and they will talk about their loss. It is commonly referred to as sitting shiva. Islamic traditions are similar in that for the first 7 days the family is not left alone and are encouraged to talk about all the details of the death and the deceased. Hindu’s also have a period of 13 days mourning. All of these customs, acknowledge the need and importance of focus on the initial loss and expressing feelings around the loss. The aim is by stopping and delving into this stage,it helps in the transition back into society.
Grief a natural and inevitable part of life
Grief is a natural response to loss. If allowed to take its course, it will take a healthy trajectory over time. The bereaved will experience the intense feelings of loss; and eventually increasingly, be able to reconstruct a sense of life without their loved one in it. Returning to work can be a blessing and a necessary support to moving through this progression, but expected to be work-fit too soon, can also have a detrimental effect on the grieving process. When an individual is returning to work due to fear of losing employment, the grieving process can become compromised along with their work productivity. In a study by Medibank they estimated the cost to Australian businesses annually due to people being present at work but not
present (defined as Presenteeism) was 39 billion dollars annually.
Anecdotally, we have heard stories along the spectrum. Incredible stories of workplace support; where unlimited time was offered, with job security guaranteed. Employee’s assembling carer leave and annual leave and long service leave in an effort to financially support their valued worker. Fellow employee’s pooling their carer/compassionate leave for the bereaved, so they could take extra time to process their life-changing situation. Unfortunately, we have also heard stories that seem down right cruel. A sister who lost her sister and was only allowed 3 days off work. A husband who lost his wife of 25 years, resigned after 15 years with his company, because his workplace refused to allow him more than the allotted 2 days leave to grieve. Individuals sometimes have to put their grief ‘on hold’ in order to return to a workplace environment. When this happens, their grief can become stifled. When grief becomes stifled, the ramifications are widespread. This can include loss of productivity, compromised immune systems, mental health issues, and in extreme cases resignation and long-term financial hardship.
Workplaces have a part to play in bereavement policy
We need compassionate leadership when it comes to bereavement leave. Some workplaces realise the impact bereavement can have on mental health and work place productivity. Even though the National Employment Standards allows for only 2 days bereavement leave, many organisations know this is inadequate. In specific cases grossly so. Employers may allow employees to access carer/sick leave, annual leave and leave without pay. While this is great, it is still misleading and supports a culture of secrecy around talking about death, hiding it like its something to be ashamed of. Research has shown that many people feel a sense of stigma around bereavement in the workplace. Naming Bereavement Leave for what it is, would go a long way to changing these attitudes. It may also help by- pass many moments of ‘foot in mouth’ as well meaning colleagues ask “How were your holidays?” when advised their missing colleague was away on annual leave.
Change is coming
Bereavement leave changes are happening all over the world, with big companies such as Facebook leading the way by implementing a 20 day paid bereavement leave policy. Before the parliament in the United Kingdom, is a bill on Parental Bereavement entitlements, that asks for a 2 week paid leave for bereaved parents. Lucy Herd has been advocating for this for seven years, after the loss of her 2 year old son. She points out that we are afforded 26 weeks maternity leave to bring a child into this world, yet only 3 days to grieve the loss of one. In Quebec, if a spouse or a child suicides, the employee is entitled to job protected leave for 52 weeks.
We may all experience grief within our working life and no one should be worried about job security while in the initial stages of grief. In a compassionate society we should allow our bereaved to be able to focus on grieving, without the fear of their job not being there when they are ready to go back to work.
Death is a life event.
Grief doesn’t discriminate and neither should our work places
Wouldn’t it be great to live in a society that brought back some sacredness around death and the rite of passage thrust upon bereaved loved ones? Wouldn’t it be fitting if the bereaved were entitled to 10 days off to catch their breath, before returning to work. Wouldn’t it be optimal if every workplace were literate around how to be with someone experiencing bereavement?
A Compassionate Bereavement Policy
In cases where bereavement is particularly hard, we believe it is appropriate to provide a 12 week unpaid bereavement leave option available for extenuating circumstances. We believe this could be accessed on the recommendation of a GP for up to 12 months after the death of a loved one. Grief is not a linear process but rather an oscillating experience of numbness, pain, acknowledgement and growth. When someone experiences a particularly difficult bereavement, returning to work after 2 day or 10 days can be impossible! Many studies show the increased possibility, for people who have experienced a significant life changing bereavement, of leaving work prematurely. Thus experiencing long term financial disadvantage.
With a supportive bereavement policy and a grief literate work place this may make all the difference.
10 days isn’t going to alter the pain around the death of a significant loved one. But it just might be enough to help ease it, allowing the bereaved to find some direction in it all.
We want a more compassionate society then we need to start being more compassionate. If you would like to read more, hop onto our bereavement leave campaign page.
Please sign the #leave to grieve petition at change.org and take our survey on memoleaves.com.