Ministers are facing calls to introduce a minimum of two weeks’ paid bereavement leave following the death of a close relative or partner. A coalition of MPs, business chiefs and charities called for the measure in the face of the mounting Covid-19 death toll.
The Government has so far been reluctant to introduce statutory bereavement leave, although it has done so for parents who lose a child.
But Carl Ennis, the UK boss of engineering giant Siemens, said the coronavirus pandemic showed “we need to take a more empathetic and holistic approach to bereavement”.
Ministers have argued that extending entitlements to paid bereavement leave would come at a significant cost to the public purse and place extra burdens on employers at a time when many are struggling.
However, economic research conducted by bereavement charity Sue Ryder suggested that the grief experienced by employees who have lost a loved one costs the UK economy £23 billion a year and hit the Treasury by nearly £8 billion a year through reduced tax revenues and increased use of NHS and social care resources.
The charity’s chief executive Heidi Travis said it was not appropriate for people to rely on annual leave or unpaid time off to cope in the aftermath of a death.
She said: “Bereavement is not a holiday. Moreover, it is often the lower paid and those in less secure employment who are unable to take time off to start processing their pain – they may not have the option of flexible working, cannot call in sick and unpaid leave is not a viable alternative.
“Coronavirus has already led to an increase in bereavement across the UK, devastating thousands of families.
“At this time of national crisis, introducing a more compassionate approach to bereavement leave is paramount.”
The coalition, which includes senior MPs and representatives from Hospice UK, Cruse Bereavement Care and the Royal College of Physicians, has written to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng calling for a change in policy.
Siemens boss Mr Ennis, part of the coalition, said: “As the Government looks to ‘build back better’, we believe that introducing statutory bereavement leave for an immediate family member or partner is a clear example of a bold, compassionate and caring commitment to UK workers, particularly after the devastating year we had in 2020.”
Debbie Abrahams, a Labour member of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, said the pandemic had “cast a spotlight on the urgent need to better support people who are dealing with grief”.
A Government spokeswoman said: “Family bereavement is an extremely personal and difficult issue which people deal with in different ways.
“We are the first country in the world to have introduced a right to time off specifically for the loss of a child and we urge employers to also display compassion and flexibility towards employees facing the ordeal of losing a partner or close family member.”