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An Employer’s Obligation to an Employee Coping With Bereavement

Published February 08, 2017 (last updated June 30, 2023) - Ben Fairfax

In the extremely sad and unfortunate circumstance of an employee losing a loved one, are you aware of their associated leave entitlements?

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has recently made an example of New Zealand Steel Ltd after they failed to act in good faith when an employee lost his foster brother.

Awa Minhinnick requested three days’ bereavement leave following the death of his foster brother in January 2016. New Zealand Steel Ltd sought legal advice prior to responding to Minhinnick, specifically surrounding the legal definition of brother, which resulted in them denying the three days of bereavement leave. They did offer Minhinnick one day bereavement leave while suggesting the remaining two could be taken as annual leave.

Minhinnick’s foster brother, Arnold Kaihau, was in fact, loosely related by blood and had been raised by the family his entire life. As a result, the ERA deemed New Zealand Steel as an unfair and unreasonable employer for denying full bereavement leave entitlements to Minhinnick.

The death of a loved one is a distressing time for anyone involved and while the ERA  and Holiday’s Act do stipulate certain guidelines around the approval of bereavement leave. As an employer you must be sure to always act in good faith. While New Zealand Steel Ltd offered leave in accordance with what they perceived to be correct, it was what they interpreted as ‘brother’ that let them down.

When a request for bereavement leave is presented, first and foremost, make sure you consider all the circumstances involved and that you act in a fair and reasonable manner. To help you understand your obligations in line with employment regulations, some questions are outlined below.

Who is entitled to bereavement leave?

All employees are entitled to this leave, including permanent, full-time, fixed-term, part-time and casual, so long as they have participated in six months of continual employment with you or an average of 10 hours per week, and at least one hour in every week or 40 hours in every month.

How much leave are employees entitled to?

Three days: appropriate in the instance of the death of an immediate family member, defined as a spouse or partner, parent, child, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or spouse or partner’s parent.

One day: for any other death whereby the employee is bereaved.

Employers need to be careful when determining if an employee is bereaved.  A baseline measure can include how close the employee was to the deceased, if the employee has any responsibilities associated with the ceremony or other requirements or if there are any cultural requirements involved.

Employees are entitled to bereavement leave every 12 months.

Do I need to pay full wages to staff on bereavement leave?

In basic terms, yes. If your employee would have been working on the day/s bereavement leave occurs, payment of the relevant daily pay or equivalent must be made. If the leave falls on a public holiday whereby the employee would have normally worked, the day is treated as a paid, unworked public holiday meaning no public holiday entitlements need to be paid.

While bereavement leave requirements may seem straight forward, it is crucial to ensure you treat all requests in good faith. If you are uncertain as to what is deemed as good faith, or are confused by your obligations as an employer, contact Employsure. As the leading workplace relations specialist we can assist with queries associated with your employees and employment obligations. Call us today on 0800 568 012.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,000 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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