Managing grief at work

BY Christian Schweitzer

You’re a small business owner and one of your employees loses a loved one. What do you do?

No doubt if you have compassion you’ll want to help and at the same time you’ll have one eye on the business knowing that work must go on.

The way a workplace supports its staff during times of grief will impact upon the business, its employees and the relationships between them. But how will you know what to do when there are almost countless examples of grief?

It may help to first look at what is provisioned via the Australian Government’s Fair Work Ombudsman which sets minimum expectations for employers to provide their staff.

All employees, including casuals, are entitled to compassionate and bereavement leave but there are certain stipulations to this.

Employers must provide compassionate leave when an employee’s immediate family or household dies or contracts a life-threatening illness or injury.

Definitions come into play here which helps employers to decipher what is considered an employee’s ‘immediate family’. Third cousin twice removed? Generally, they may be considered immediate family if living under the same household.

A staff member is entitled to two days of compassionate leave for each occasion though compassionate leave is not accumulated as part of an employee’s entitlement. Full-time and part-time workers are entitled to their ordinary rate of pay for each occasion of compassionate leave. Casuals are not paid but given the time off accordingly.

Noteworthy is that compassionate leave does not get deducted from an employee’s annual leave or personal (sick) leave accrual.

Bosses can also require their staff to substantiate their compassionate leave with appropriate documentation and may choose to hold payments if substantiation is not forthcoming.

It’s important to know what are the legal expectations, but in all of this we need to consider that the human touch is often the most important factor when dealing with a staff member’s grief and there’s certainly much that an employer can do.

Empathy and being non-judgmental will help show the employee that you care and are concerned for their well-being. Provision the necessary time off per the minimum standards and allow for the person to grieve in their own personal manner.

Determine whether staff working alongside the bereaved employee are communicated with, though this is situational based, there might be some things that are not appropriate to be shared so discretion is advised as often grief is a private matter.

Hopefully your employee will feel appropriately supported in what is most likely a difficult time, whilst you can be reassured that your business will still be on track and you’re fulfilling all your legal obligations.

Christian Schweitzer is the General Manager at the Business Publishing Group, publisher of travelBulletin. He has 20 years’ experience leading teams in sales, marketing, and customer service, with particular industry experience across travel, tourism, non-profit, retail, wholesale and direct marketing industries. He holds an MBA from the Macquarie Graduate School of Management and is a regular guest on Sky News Business channel.

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