From 6 April 2020 working parents will have the statutory right to take leave following the devastating loss of a child, so they can grieve away from the workplace. In some situations, that leave will be paid.
This is the first law of its kind in the UK. There has never been such a thing as statutory bereavement or compassionate leave. The only statutory right the bereaved have been able to call upon in the past is ‘time off for dependents’. That is designed to provide a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off to deal with emergencies involving dependants (including practical matters arising from their death). But it is not bereavement leave. And it is unpaid.
Who qualifies for the leave?
Parents who suffer the loss of a child under the age of 18. This includes a stillbirth that occurs after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
“Parent” is drafted widely to include most types of parental relationship.
The leave is only available to employees (not contractors or agency workers). An employee is not required to have worked for an employer for a particular period beforehand.
Although technically the new law applies to the parents of children who pass away on or after 6 April 2020, employers are likely to want to take a compassionate and flexible approach if an employee finds themselves in this sad situation between now and 6 April 2020.
How much leave can they take and when?
An employee can choose to take one or two weeks’ leave. The two weeks can be taken separately.
The leave can be taken at any time within 56 weeks of the death. This allows the employee to take the leave around special dates and anniversaries if they wish, as they are likely to be particularly difficult times.
In the sad situation in which more than one child has died or been stillborn (for example, twins), the employee is entitled to a separate period of leave for each child.
How much notice needs to be given?
For leave starting within seven weeks of the child’s death, an employee – understandably – is required to give very little notice. They simply need to tell their employer at some point before they are due to start work on the first day of leave (or as soon as reasonably practicable after that).
For leave starting from seven weeks onwards, the regulations say that one week’s notice should be given. That being said, employers will want to deal with short notice in a sensitive way.
Should the employee be paid?
If they meet the statutory criteria and notify the employer in the right way, with the right evidence.
In summary, an employee needs to have worked for an employer for six months and be earning at least the ‘lower earnings threshold’ (currently £118 a week) to be eligible.
Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay is paid at the same rate as statutory maternity / paternity / shared parental pay (currently £148.68 per week).
Steps employers should take
You should consider including a reference to statutory parental bereavement leave and pay in your HR policies. This will make employees aware of it and help ensure any process to be followed is always the same.
If, as an employer, you already allow employees to take compassionate leave, it would be worth referring in that policy to the contractual right including any statutory entitlement to parental bereavement leave.
You may want to consider extending the statutory right to mirror other family leave benefits. For example, you may decide to provide for full pay during some or all of the leave, especially if employees already receive full pay during compassionate leave.
This new right will be of tremendous benefit to the relatively small number of parents who lose a child during their working life.
Employees who lose other close members of their family, for example parents or partners, will continue to be able to take a shorter period of time off, making use of ‘time off for dependents’