Cultural Leave for Indigenous Employees

Introducing cultural leave into workplace policies is a valuable way to show inclusive respect for all workforce members, acknowledging that requests for leave may require a flexible approach to offer support and compassion for employees of all cultures, faiths, and beliefs.

Aboriginal Sorry Business cultural leave requests are one of the many areas where businesses can act with empathy, taking the time to educate themselves about how Indigenous communities honour the lives of loved ones, Elders, and extended family members who have passed and what that leave structure might look like. Once employers acknowledge and recognise Aboriginal beliefs about death and afterlife, they have the tools to approach such requests with knowledge and understanding while ensuring a workplace is fair and supportive of every member of staff. 

How Might Bereavement Leave Differ for Aboriginal Employees?

Every business provides its staff with varied ways to request periods of absence or leave, whether they wish to use a holiday entitlement or need time away from work following a bereavement or other life event. Compassionate leave is a well-established approach, where employees can request an approved amount of time away from work while they attend a funeral, manage the grief and sadness of a loss, and take care of practicalities such as organising a loved one’s affairs or belongings.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people refer to the period following death as ‘Sorry Business,’ and this may look different from the way other community members and people of alternative cultures or beliefs pay their respects. For example, they may wish to attend ceremonies, cultural events, and occasions within their communities that celebrate the lives and impact a person leaves behind. These might cover a broader number of events and commemorative gatherings than the conventional funerals common in Western cultures.

Understanding the Importance of Cultural Leave for First Nation Workforce Members  

Workforce managers should acknowledge that kinship means that Indigenous people may feel compelled to honour the life of somebody within their community who is not necessarily a direct family member.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may have many mothers, fathers, grandparents, and siblings and need cultural leave following the bereavement of an Elder or other person important to them.

Enquiring about the employee’s relationship with the person who has passed may often be considered offensive and disrespectful–employers with an understanding of kinship and family ties will approach this with sensitivity and care. First Nations employees should also have the right to request cultural leave for other events of cultural significance and spiritual community events, such as:

  • Coming-of-age or welcoming celebrations following the birth of a new child
  • National Sorry Day, held on the 26th of May each year
  • NAIDOC Week
  • National Reconciliation Week

What is National Sorry Day? This event commemorates the Stolen Generations with a blend of events and ceremonies. Many Indigenous people honour the day by attending marches, gatherings, flag-raising, workshops, meals, and groups where they can reflect and remember.

Why Should Businesses Consider Cultural Leave Requests?

Being granted cultural leave to attend an event that is important to the individual fosters an environment of trust, safety, inclusion, and mutual respect. Sorry Business is a fundamental aspect of the belief system held by many Aboriginal people, ingrained in their values and commitment to kinship, community, and culture. A person may feel obligated to attend Sorry Business, irrespective of whether their employer grants permission.

Turning down such a request without due consideration or without taking the time to access educational resources to comprehend the significance of the event or Sorry Business leave request can be deeply damaging. Businesses and organisations that work proactively to build inclusive workspaces may, for example, broaden their definition and understanding of ‘family’ to appreciate the extended family structures common in Indigenous communities.

They may also consider cultural leave requests for longer periods or where an individual is free to request specific days of leave to attend commemorative ceremonies that help the person’s spirit continue its journey, where the end of one life is not considered the end of their spirit.

Aboriginal funerals and sacred ceremonies are of great value, and providing the space for an employee to honour these events ensures they feel supported, with the right to time away to grieve, pay respects, and cope with a loss–before returning to a workplace where they have the assurances their employer will address cultural leave requests with compassion, understanding, and parity.

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Aboriginal Beliefs About Death and Afterlife
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What Is National Sorry Day?

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