Leave to Grieve

We call on the Australian Federal Government to increase the number of days for bereavement leave to 10 days. We think as a community we should offer those experiencing a bereavement, reasonable time to grieve. We ask that this leave is available to people for up to 12 months after the loss of a loved one, and to include casual, contract and temporary employment conditions.

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Leave to Grieve

Join us in asking the Australian Federal Government to increase the amount of bereavement leave for all Australians

Memoleaves is calling on the Australian Federal Government to increase the number of days for bereavement leave to 10 days. As a community we should offer those experiencing a bereavement, reasonable time to grieve. We believe there should also be the possibility for a individual suffering from the loss of a close relationship, to take up to 12 weeks leave without pay. There is scope for this to be supported by Centrelink Bereavement payment, if eligible.  More recent models of bereavement recognise the oscillating nature of grief; where our view moves from a loss orientation to an orientation of restoring our changed world in some way. Taking into account the cyclical repetitious nature of bereavement, we ask that this leave is available to people for up to 12 months after the loss of a loved one, and to include casual, contract and temporary employment conditions. Thus providing job security for all. Read our infographic here.

Current Bereavement entitlement in Australia

The National Employment Standards (a set of rules that describes all the entitlements for any employee in Australia), contains the conditions of employment; including leave entitlements that must be given to each employee in an Australian workplace. It informs each employment contract and union agreement. On bereavement, it specifies that a full-time, part-time or a casual employee, is entitled to 2 days paid leave to grieve, which can be taken as consecutive days or separately. A person identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander, similarly is entitled to 2 days compassionate leave for Sorry Business.

There are provisos in the National Employment Standards for 10 days Carers leave/Personal leave, what is colloquially called “sick leave”. This could be used to care for sick dependents, or personal illnesses. For those experiencing a bereavement who are already on social support benefits, Centrelink provides up to 14 weeks financial support at a higher rate than normal. This indicating the government recognises that bereavement can impair someone’s ability to seek employment. Its ironic that in contrast,the people who administer this payment, as determined by the public sector awards, are only entitled to 2 days off by law, as enshrined in their union agreements. In the Victorian union agreement for the public service teachers, they are allocated 3 days bereavement leave but are expected to use this before the funeral.

2-3 days to grieve is way too low to support people dealing with bereavement and we believe that we can do better as a community to support those who are grieving. Bereavement could be classified as an emotional injury. The Workplace Relations Act 2005, encourages workers to return to work after an injury, and while this is everyone’s desired outcome, in the case of  bereavement, it may be unrealistic considering the current amount of entitled bereavement leave. It may be the case that a little bit more time afforded between the loss of a loved one and returning to work, makes all the difference to success in returning to work.

Grief does not discriminate and neither should an employer. A person should be able to take the time they need to start their grieving process with the knowledge they have a job to come back to.

The case for extending bereavement leave

More recent grief models, point to the grief process as being more of a back and forth process between feeling the pain of the loss, and trying to rebuild ones life anew around this loss. The bereaved continue to flip back and forth between these two orientations. With a natural grief trajectory, this will diminish over time. Two days bereavement leave to focus on feeling this loss, is grossly inadequate.  

It is well documented the potential physical, emotional and mental health impact bereavement can have on an employer in the work place. A Northern Island Longitudinal Study found that being bereaved increases your risk of poor mental health, with up to 71% of people more likely to be taking medication for depression. Eyetsemitan (1998) stated that people returning to work earlier than is ideal for a healthy grieving process, due to economic reasons, will likely experience what he coined ‘stifled grief’ in an effort to fit back into the work environment. This off course has long term ‘hidden’ effects on both employer and employee in terms of personal health and company productivity. It has been estimated that the financial cost to organisations due to grief and loss is in the billions. (Eyetsemitan,1998) 

For each death, there is an average of 4 to 5 grieving survivors. For most, extreme feelings of grief begin to fade within 6 months after the loss. But some continue to struggle for years to move on with their lives. Some people want to get back into the routine, but others do need to take time away. More support and acknowledgement at the beginning of the bereavement journey may benefit successful return to work life and thus long term financial security. We believe that enshrining bereavement leave in the National Employment Standards would send a message to employees and employers that there needs to be space made for the process. 

Australian Research

The studies we found are compelling for the need and value in extending bereavement leave.

‘Loss and Grief in the Work place, what can we learn from the literature’ (O’Connor, Watts, Bloomer & Larkins, 2010)
This paper explains how grief in the work place can effect employee productivity and loss of company profitability. According to American Hospice Foundation (2000), as cited, workplaces that provide programs that address grief and loss “encounter fewer mistakes, reduced sick leave, lower staff turnover and improved teamwork resulting in sustained productivity.”This paper states that the available research points to the inadequacy of 2 days bereavement leave. Apart from the inability to process grief, let alone plan a funeral in 2 days, we live in a multi-cultural, multi-faith society and the need for flexibility due to rituals and ceremonies occurring at different time’s within the first year, is another consideration.   While work can be a place of support in getting on with the living of a life after a significant death, many people will return to work due to financial constraints rather than being work ready. It is suggested that negotiating return to work during a time of bereavement could have significant benefits on employer and employee outcomes. This paper also promoted the need for developing more compassionate workplaces with a culture of grief literacy, where people could feel more open and honest in their communication about what they were going through and thus encourage peer support. This highlights the great need to name bereavement leave for what it is.

Grief and Loss in the Workplace (Tehan and Thomson ,2013)
This study states the need for flexible policies to help bereaved employees to assimilate their loss and start to reconstruct how their world may look now their loved one is no longer here. They state that this may help significantly in preventing negative behaviours manifesting within the individual and/or the workplace. These negative behaviours include reduced levels of concentration, poor quality of work, reduced productivity, tensions and irritability that can lead to impaired communication and conflict. Employment can be extremely important for an individual reconstructing their life after the death of a significant loved one, and we are getting better at educating workplaces around how to deal with grief in the workplace. However, we have some way to go. Two days bereavement leave could be seen to send a significant message that its time to “get over it” and “get on with it”. While many employees may access the 10 days Personal leave available to full-time employees, these may also have been used up on personal sick days or with appointments caring for their loved one and/or in the weeks before a protracted death. 

Tehan and Thompson (2013) call for “a legislative framework to develop and implement a specific quantity and quality of flexible and responsive workplace bereavement leave could be two options to address grieving employees’ needs when returning to work in the first year after their bereavement”. They go on to suggest the possibility of developing a national self-insurance scheme such as Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1998 scheme already available in Australia.

Both of these studies referred to the stigma individuals felt around bereavement. We believe that naming leave to grieve as Bereavement Leave, goes some way to normalising grief in the workplace. Lets name bereavement for what it is!

Are you an employer?

We believe that many employers are already supporting bereaved employees. Please share your experiences here, and call them out on social media for their good work with our hashtag, #Leavetogrieve. 

Other parts of the world

The Canadian’s model of Compassionate Carer Benefit, is a funded Employment Insurance scheme where employees can take up to 26 weeks (6mths) leave to care for a gravely ill family member. They are entitled to 3 days paid bereavement leave.

A Swedish study into Grief that tells us the incidence of mental health problems is highest when a child dies, and higher again when that child commits suicide. The same study states the most severely impacted group of grievers, parents, that their economic well-being suffers for up to 10 years after the intense grief has subsided.

Facebook CEO Cheryl Sandberg set a precedent when she put in place the bereavement allowances for people after the unexpected death of her husband. Understandably she was devastated. And Facebook now allows for up to 20 days paid bereavement leave. In her own words: “Amid the nightmare of Dave’s death when my kids needed me more than ever, I was grateful every day to work for a company that provides bereavement leave and flexibility,” she wrote. “I needed both to start my recovery. I know how rare that is, and I believe strongly that it shouldn’t be. People should be able to work and be there for their families.”(“What Companies Are Doing To Support Grieving Employees”, 2018)

Grief does not end after an allocated 2 days, it continues and repeats itself, and for many it does this indefinitely. For people to go back to work without adequate time to grieve can and does lead to many things, depression, anxiety, and ultimately loss of jobs leading to periods of unemployment and financial problems. In the worst case it can lead to destitution. In the Swedish study this is identified as impacting grievers for 10 years.

In Conclusion

We have heard anecdotally from both sides of the coin. Of compassionate employers who have provided extensive amounts of support, both personally and through providing leave to their employees, paid and unpaid. We have also heard, from bereaved employees who have not been allowed extra leave to grieve, and forced to return to work, resulting in resignation. If the bereaved individual is not in a position to financially leave the job, this can lead to all the mental health issues and follow on effects. Including loss of career. For older Australians, the loss of a partner was recently identified in a study as having a greater impact on health and wellbeing, than to that of a younger person.

We celebrate the wonderful stories of support provided to employees experiencing bereavement, many organisations already administer bereavement leave policies in line with our desire to provide more leave and support to those in these difficult times. We believe that industry is ahead of the legislation in many ways and we hope ready to support our efforts to have this recognised by Fair Work Australia. All Australians should have the time they need to grieve. To find their new normal, and return to work in a more recovered way than the National Employment Standards currently allow.

With these things in mind, Memoleaves is calling on the Australian Federal Government to increase the number of days for bereavement leave to 10 days. We think as a community we should offer those experiencing bereavement of a person who was a significant relationship in their lives, the opportunity to take up to 12 weeks, to be supported by Centrelink payments, if eligible. Taking into account the more recent models of grief that recognise the more oscillating nature of grief, we ask that this leave is available to people for up to 12 months after the loss of a loved one, and to include casual, contract and temporary employment conditions.

Who are We

Memoleaves is a website collaboration started by three friends to try to bring some visibility and normalcy to the discussion around death, dying and grief. We specialise in post grief growth and sharing stories and reflections of us all. We recognise that society has changed over the last 50 years, and something has been lost in how we look at, and treat, sadness. With that has come an increased medicalisation for depression and grief, and traditions around mourning are largely no longer part of our cultural tradition. We have spent many hours over the last 18 months, developing our Memoleaves project and discussing issues, stories and topics around death and dying. Our work has sparked many conversations with loved ones and each other that have contributed to our own personal and individual growth. The idea for our site is predicated on the idea of the healing arts, and the psychological studies that have shown that writing about emotional experiences improves our immune system and our ability to cope. Any act of expression is a way to be heard. We hear you.

We hope that our site will promote this type of healing and expression for our shared experience of grieving. We offer a place to put your grief, write your stories, express how the other persons life and death impacted you, connect with people, and find services and support.

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