Research indicates that one in ten employees is likely to be affected by bereavement at any one time. Tragically, in 2017, 7,653 babies, children and young people (under the age of 18) died in the UK. That’s 21 every day.

While employees currently have a day-one right to take “reasonable” time off work to deal with an emergency, which would include the death of a dependant, the entitlement is to unpaid leave only and employees often feel pressured to return to work before they are ready to.

The Government-backed Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill was introduced to Parliament as a private member’s bill by Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton, and received Royal Assent on 13 September 2018. The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act is expected to come into force in 2020 and will give employed parents who have lost a child the right to take paid leave to allow them time to grieve.

Kevin Hollinrake said, “Losing a child is the most dreadful and unimaginable experience that any parent could suffer and it is right that grieving parents will now be given time to start to come to terms with their loss.”

Who will be entitled to bereavement leave?

  • A bereaved parent will be entitled to bereavement leave if they have been employed for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks in the week immediately before the one in which the child dies and have received pay above the lower earnings limit for the previous 8 weeks.
  • Regulations will provide more detail on the definition of a qualifying parent by reference to their care of the child
  • .A child is a person under the age of 18 and includes a child stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

What is the bereaved parent entitled to?

  • Bereaved parents will be entitled to take two weeks’ paid bereavement leave.
  • The leave must be taken before the end of 56 days, beginning with the date of the child’s death.
  • The leave must be taken in blocks of one week and can be taken in a continuous block or discontinuous blocks of leave.
  • Where an employee has lost more than one child, they will be entitled to a separate period of leave in respect of each child.
  • The leave will be paid at a rate prescribed by regulations, but it is likely to be at the same rate as statutory maternity, paternity, shared parental and adoption leave.

So what can employers do now in preparation for the new entitlement to bereavement leave?

Some employers may already have compassionate leave policies which allow for a set period of paid time off work for employees dealing with bereavement. It is advisable to review such a policy in the light of the new entitlement to statutory paid bereavement leave. Employers may wish to consider offering enhanced bereavement pay in line with any other enhanced family-friendly pay they offer, such as enhanced maternity pay.

It is advisable for employers to put in place a bereavement leave policy in advance of the right to bereavement leave coming into effect and to ensure that managers and HR teams receive training on dealing with bereavement in the workplace.

It is important for employers to bear in mind the following factors when dealing with bereavement in the workplace:

  • Employees can experience mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression or PTSD as a result of the loss of a child. Employers should be attuned to this when dealing with increased absence or changes in performance by a bereaved employee, as their condition could constitute a disability under the Equality Act 2010. In such circumstances, employers must seek medical advice and make reasonable adjustments, where required.
  • Female employees who suffer a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy will still be entitled to up to 52 weeks’ statutory maternity leave and/or pay, as will a mother who has lost a child after birth.
  • Certain religions have bereavement requirements and funeral rites and an employer’s refusal to allow an employee to observe their belief or custom could amount to indirect religion or belief discrimination unless the employer can objectively justify the decision.
  • Clearly bereavement is a very personal issue and employees have the right to keep details of their child’s death confidential under the Data Protection Act 2018. Employers should discuss with employees how much information they wish to share with colleagues and should handle any communications sensitively.