Supporting employees whose children have died or are hospitalised

Footballer Ronaldo’s recent criticisms of Manchester United shone a spotlight on how employers deal with grieving parents and those with seriously ill children, as Barry Stanton reports

Credit: Evrim Aydin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Piers Morgan always manages to hit the headlines and his recent interview with  Cristiano Ronaldo was no different. As a result, Ronaldo is leaving Manchester United on a free transfer. Clearly, the interview was a device to engineer an exit, but equally raises the question of how an employer should deal with an employee grieving over the loss of a child and how to react when an employee’s child is hospitalised. Sadly, Ronaldo experienced both phenomena earlier this year, and he criticised his club for showing a lack of empathy around his daughter’s hospitalisation.

Child bereavement 

While Benjamin Franklin’s comment that ‘In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes’ is sadly too true, the remarkable thing is how ill prepared and ill equipped we are to deal with loss of loved ones, particularly our own children, when the pain and hurt are horrifically magnified, and how ill equipped we are to deal with loss suffered by others. 

The statutory framework permits employees suffering the loss of a child to take two weeks of bereavement leave in the 56 weeks following the death. The legislation is clear: it only applies to employees and does not extend to those who are workers, or who are providing services outside of an employment relationship who have no similar rights. 

The legislation provides a minimum framework for leave, but businesses need to go beyond that to ensure employees are properly and adequately supported to be able to deal with the huge range of emotions they will feel. Taking the typical ‘hands off’ approach and letting people muddle through is not going to win an employee’s heart or mind. They will remember, vividly, the support they receive at such a time. 

Extending paid leave, offering support and providing access to bereavement counselling are all steps an employer can take to support their employees and help reintegrate them back into the workplace. Even when they are back at work it is likely they will be working at a sub-optimum level – coming to work but not forging ahead. Support at work, lessening some of their workload, and providing time off to attend counselling are all steps businesses should consider. 

Hospitalisation of a child

The suggestion that Manchester United did not believe Ronaldo when his baby daughter was in hospital, and, as a result, he did not wish to attend pre-season training to stay with his family, seems remarkable. How should an employer ideally respond in those circumstances? Obviously, there is an employee’s ability to take time off in an emergency, but that only covers a short period of time. Much may depend on the seriousness of the condition and the age of the child. Even then employers need to be empathetic towards their staff. Giving an employee some time off, allowing flexible working, either allowing the employee to work from hospital, reduced hours or at times of the day when they might not usually work are all steps that can help.  

Breakdown of trust and confidence

Another interesting issue from the Ronaldo situation is how an employer should respond in the face of what appears to be a complete breakdown in the relationship of trust and confidence. When dealing with employees the option is either to take a disciplinary route, with the most likely outcome being summary dismissal, or a pre-termination discussion. For someone like Ronaldo, at such a level, and with such a public profile, to speak out so publicly there was only ever one outcome. Agreeing an ‘amicable’ exit will have cost United millions of pounds in transfer fees but will have saved much time, cost and angst and avoided further potentially damaging revelations. 

Barry Stanton is head of employment at Boyes Turner