Right to bereavement leave and pay
The death of a child is an unimaginably difficult and painful time for parents and, whilst most employers are flexible and accommodating during such a time, until now there has been no workplace right to leave for bereaved parents in the UK.
Change is on the horizon as the Parental Leave and Pay Bill achieved Royal Assent in September and the Parental Leave and Pay Act is expected to come into force in April 2020.
The technical workings of the Act are currently unknown as the finer details will be provided in the associated regulations. However, the main rights granted by the Act are:
- All employed parents will have a day-one right to 2 weeks’ leave if they lose a child under the age of 18.
- The same right will apply to parents who suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy.
- Employed parents will also be able to claim pay for this period, subject to eligibility criteria (details of which are to follow in the associated regulations).
The Act is the first of its kind in the UK to support those affected by the tragedy of childhood mortality. However, it has faced some criticism from the public as it only applies to loss of a child under the age of 18. The limitation of the Act has been justified on the basis that it would increase the number of eligible beneficiaries fivefold (if applying to all parents, regardless of the age of the child at death), which would cause a significant and undue strain on employers.
Whilst the Act provides a legal right to bereavement leave, it is important for employers to consider what other steps they should take to assist employees who suffer the death of a child. Care and consideration should be given to workplace bereavement policies, provision of counselling and services to assist employees on their return to work after suffering a loss. Treating employees with compassion and being flexible to their needs while balancing the requirements of a business is a difficult task, and employers would be wise to tread carefully and seek advice where unsure.