Bereaved employees feel added pressure of job insecurity

bereaved employeesEmpathy, a platform helping families navigate the journey they face after losing a loved one, today released the first edition of its annual Cost of Dying Report (registration). The report reveals results from a new survey exploring the real cost of dying in the US and the impact on bereaved employees. The report includes a foreword from Goldman Sachs, as well as reflections from experts in the end-of-life space including David Kessler, Chief Empathy Officer at Empathy & Grief Expert, BJ Miller, MD, Compassion Advisor at Empathy & Co-Founder of Mettle Health, and Shoshanna Ungerleider, MD, Founder of the End Well Foundation.

Meanwhile in the UK, according to another report from the CIPD, three quarters (75 percent) of employers support extending Jack’s Law to allow employees experiencing any close family bereavement to take paid time off. The finding comes shortly after the CIPD co-hosted a Parliamentary event with Patricia Gibson MP for MPs and Lords to discuss Patricia’s Bill on bereavement leave and pay, which will have its second reading on 18 March 2022.

According to the Empathy report, US families dealing with loss face unique challenges that encompass nearly every aspect of their life. Unfortunately, the traditional support systems available to most Americans fall short of addressing the holistic needs of a bereaved family. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought this gap into sharp focus. More than 3 million Americans lost their lives in 2020 and their surviving family members were left searching for the right support to guide them through the financial, legal, and emotional challenges of a loss.

This report takes a comprehensive look at the cost of dying in the United States and the massive demands it puts on the family of the deceased. The information details not only the emotional toll of grief, but the actual, practical burdens that accompany loss like funerals, paying debts, and administering estates. Along with notable statistics, the report features perspectives from renowned experts in the bereavement field on how such challenges can be addressed.

Significant findings include:

  • After a loved one dies, nearly every family faces a significant financial burden, with the average total bill standing at $12,702.
  • On average, families spend 13 months after their loved one’s death completing all the necessary tasks, or 20 months if the estate must go through the full probate process.
  • Bereavement has a notable effect on employed family members’ job security and work productivity: 46 percent of respondents had to spend more than 1 hour per workday to deal with tasks related to their loved one, meaning a total of 325 hours of potential lost productivity over the course of the average 13-month process.

“Death doesn’t skip anyone, and the cost of dying is higher than we think,” said Ron Gura, Co-Founder & CEO of Empathy. “Aside from the financial costs, the mental costs of grief seep into every aspect of our lives. We, as a society, can do more to help those suffering; with this report, which includes important contributions from leading figures in the end-of-life space and a foreword by Goldman Sachs, we hope to shine a light on this often neglected topic so that we can overcome the taboo on death and meaningfully step up for grieving families across the US.”

The study is the first edition of an annual report to better understand the challenges and needs of bereaved families in the US. Over 2,100 respondents who have lost a loved one in the past five years took part in the survey.


Bereavement leave

In the UK, three quarters of employers support extending paid bereavement leave to close family members, the CIPD research finds.

Jack’s Law is a legal right to bereavement leave and pay for working parents who lose a child under the age of 18, however no such right currently exists for those who lose a close family member. The two weeks of paid parental bereavement leave is available to employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service with their employer and weekly average earnings over the lower earnings limit (earning on average at least £120 per week before tax).

Extending the right would mean that employees who experience the loss of a close family member – including a parent, child, or partner, whether by blood, adoption or through marriage/a partner – would also have the right to two weeks’ paid leave from work.

Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser for resourcing and inclusion at the CIPD comments: “Employees that have experienced a close family bereavement will need time to come to terms with what has happened and will be highly unlikely to be able to perform well at work if they are forced to return too quickly. While many organisations provide paid bereavement leave to support employees at one of the most difficult times of their lives, this is far from universal and extending the statutory provision is likely to give employees time and space to grieve rather than worrying about paying their bills and financial worries.”

The CIPD also found:

  • 80 percent of employers provide paid bereavement leave for close family members
  • The most common length of paid leave is 3-5 days (40 percent), followed by 1-2 days (14 percent). Just over one in ten (12 percent) offer 2 weeks of paid leave.

Along with Lucy Herd, founder of Jack’s Rainbow, the CIPD launched guidance for employers on the importance of bereavement support in July 2020:

Image by Adina Voicu