Publishing daily updated statistics relating to COVID-19 cases and deaths is designed to ensure vigilance stays high amidst the coronavirus pandemic. But it can also be an unwelcome reminder to those who have suffered personal loss. So how should HR Departments handle the emotional impact of COVID-19? Are staff entitled to compassionate leave?
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is not confined to any one area. Whether it’s the economy, society, health services or even personal wellbeing, the influence has been acutely negative on the whole.
Even under normal circumstances, the strain which the loss of a loved one can have can be significant. It is for this reason that Bereavement Leave and Compassionate Leave both exist.
The COVID-19 Toll
But the toll that coronavirus has taken on people is not confined to simply personal loss. An article published in The Guardian in July examined the emotional toll that the COVID19 crisis has had in the UK through 5 different areas: Grief, Anxiety, Relationships, Loneliness and Mental Health.
- 50% of the population (25 million) reported high levels of anxiety. That figure fell to about 28% by the end of June but, as restrictions lifted, climbed again quickly to 33%.
- 67% said they were worried about the effect COVID-19 was having on their life.
- 59% of adults stated their mental health had worsened during lockdown, a quarter of whom described it as ‘much worse’.
The figures were offered mainly by the Office for National Statistics, and while no figures related to the grief that came with bereavement, anecdotal evidence highlighted how an inability to have physical contact with family only intensified the grief felt.
So whether it was due to a death in the family, the chance of developing post-traumatic stress syndrome after recovering from COVID-19, or the anxiety from health and financial uncertainty, the likelihood employees may be suffering from mental health and anxiety conditions is higher than ever. The need to consider granting leave on compassionate grounds is also, therefore, greater.
Compassionate or Bereavement Leave
There can be some confusion over what Compassionate Leave is. In Ireland, it and Bereavement Leave are used interchangeably but there is a technical distinction between the two.
Bereavement Leave refers specifically to time off work when a family member dies. Compassionate Leave, however, relates to time off to look after a relative or child who has fallen ill or requires care.
Given the unique situation that COVID-19 has thrown up, where the worry and anxiety felt by employees and their family members, even without the pain of a death in the immediate family, it is difficult to argue against the need for compassion and patience to be extended to employees who are clearly suffering.
Steps To Take
Employers are under no statutory obligation to grant paid leave either on compassionate grounds or for a bereavement, but it is impossible in this era of employee wellbeing and corporate engagement to ignore the need to come to an agreement.
If your company does not currently include Compassionate Leave in your employment terms, now is the time to add it. And while the needs of the company are significant, the overall wellbeing of employees are critical.
Of course, different people deal with grief and anxiety in different ways, so the consensus is to consider a bespoke approach to help employees. Despite there being no obligation, it’s not unusual for staff to be offered 3-5 days paid leave, depending on employment terms.
Where the time off sought is longer, some flexible options could be offered, such as:
- offering extended paid compassionate leave
- allowing an employee to work from home
- altering shifts, to coordinate caring options (if relevant)
- offering paid time off that the employee can work back at a later date
For information on other forms of leave that may be relevant at this time, check out the following links:
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