Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom has announced new regulations on Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay, which will give eligible employees two weeks’ paid statutory leave if they lose a child. The law will come into effect from 6 April 2020 subject to final parliamentary approval. Although an upsetting subject, this new law will give certainty and protections for parents.

What has changed?

Back in May 2019, my colleague, Michael Farrier, explained the government’s proposals (article: parental-bereavement-new-guidance), which have now been published as statutory instruments. Currently, parents are entitled to emergency unpaid leave, which would include time to attend and prepare a funeral. However, this is often not for a defined minimum period and would rely heavily on the discretion of the line manager or any guidance from the company’s own voluntary compassionate leave policy.

New legislation has been referred to as “Jack’s Law” after a mother, Lucy Herd, campaigned for the change to the law to provide certainty on the leave entitlement for grieving parents in these terrible circumstances after losing her son, Jack. Ms Herd explained that there is a lengthy list of administrative tasks that can overwhelm parents in this situation in addition to the grief when losing a child. These include: assisting with post-mortem or inquest findings, organising a funeral, as well as confirming the news to organisations such as the child’s school or remembering to contact benefits offices.

How does Jack’s Law work?

From 6 April 2020, parents will be entitled to statutory Bereavement Leave of a minimum of two weeks after losing a child under the age of 18 or having a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. The leave can be taken as one block of two weeks’ leave or as two separate blocks of one week each and must be taken within the first 56 weeks after the child’s death.

If the parents have worked for their employer for 26 weeks or more at the date of their child’s death, then the leave will be paid at the same rate for other statutory parental payments. If they do not have this length of service, it will be unpaid.

Only a few countries in the world offer parental bereavement leave and the UK is the only country to offer as much as two weeks’ leave. The UK’s position aims to reflect that everyone deals with grief differently. Some may need time off straight away whereas others may need to continue working in the immediate aftermath as part of the healing process and then take time off later once they have had time to come to terms with their loss.

What does my business need to do next?

To ensure that your business is compliant, it is vital to update your policies and HR team so that statutory leave is provided when necessary. This would mean reviewing your organisation’s compassionate leave policy, statutory leave rules or time off to deal with emergencies. However, while Jack’s Law sets out the minimum periods of time that parents should be given off work, enhancements to Jack’s Law could be adopted by your business to offer a more supportive workplace. Some optional suggestions could be:

  • Increasing the period of time that parents can take as leave. For example, you could offer an extra two weeks (making the total leave four weeks) to be taken within the 56 weeks following the child’s death. Alternatively, managerial discretion could be applied to extend the period of leave in some cases.
  • Making the right to receive pay a day one right rather than requiring 26 weeks’ service. While many parents may need time off after losing their child, some may not be able to afford to take this time off if it is unpaid.
  • Reviewing your compassionate leave policy for personal bereavements generally. While losing a child must be one of the worst feelings imaginable, losing a partner or close friend or family member may result in similar devastation to others.
  • Increasing statutory Bereavement Pay to actual basic pay. The statutory amounts may represent a loss in weekly pay so may actual deter higher earners from taking this leave. Making the Bereavement Pay a week’s basic pay will mitigate this loss and encourage the leave to be taken when needed.

With all things considered, the key in difficult times is support. Employers might consider training to managers on how to spot issues in the workplace and asking the right questions at the right times. Remember to consider the welfare of your employees if their performance or conduct suddenly deteriorates from the standards that you previously expected of them as it may be due to a personal loss rather than a lack of ability or poor behaviour.