This week The Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill has been introduced to Parliament which, if passed, will entitle parents who suffer the loss of a child to a period of two weeks’ leave. Currently, there is no such fixed entitlement, with the Employment Rights Act entitling employees to a “reasonable” amount of time off to deal with an emergency relating to a dependant, including making arrangements following the death of a dependant.
Although most employers will generally exercise their discretion to allow an employee a period of time away from work to grieve and make the necessary funeral arrangements, they are under no obligation to allow a fixed minimum period, and indeed some employers will not act in this way.
Two Weeks’ Leave Regardless of Length of Service
In order to support employees who find themselves in this awful position and give them certainty that they are able to have time away from the workplace without repercussions, it is proposed that employees who lose a child under the age of 18 would receive two weeks’ leave regardless of their length of service, with the potential to extend this to parents of babies who are stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Employees would also be entitled to receive their terms and conditions of employment which would have applied but for the absence, save for those in relation to pay, and the employee would remain bound by their obligations arising under those terms and conditions.
Employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service with their employer at the date of the child’s death would be entitled to Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay. Employees without 26 weeks’ service as at the date of the child’s death would still be entitled to 2 weeks’ leave but they would not be entitled to receive any pay during this period. The proposed structure is similar to how entitlement to maternity pay operates and, given the similarity in structure, it is anticipated that this would work in the same way as Statutory Maternity Pay with the applicable rate being confirmed on an annual basis. Employers will be able to recover the cost of Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay from the Government.
As with any statutory pay scheme, there would be no restriction on an employer choosing to pay above the statutory rate or to extending Parental Bereavement Pay to those employees who do not qualify because they did not have qualifying length of service.
Managing Bereavement in the Workplace
There is no guarantee at this stage that the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill will be passed into law. In the meantime employers need to be careful to deal with the situation sensitively if it arises, and be reasonable in response to requests for leave – denying bereavement leave where a child has passed away is not only likely to cause issues in the employment relationship, but could also lead to a constructive dismissal claim fuelled by an argument that there has been a breach of the duty of trust and confidence owed by the employer to the employee. In addition, employers should consider the longer lasting impact of losing a child on an employee, and consider ways in which they can offer support such as counselling, flexible working, time off around times that will provoke painful memories, and so on. ACAS has produced a useful guide on managing bereavement in the workplace, which can be found here http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4977.
Employers should already have a policy in place which covers Bereavement Leave, but if the Bill is passed, employers will need to ensure that this policy extends to incorporate provisions in respect of Statutory Parental Bereavement Leave. An employer is unlikely to receive much notice of an employee’s intention to take this leave, and a written policy will help to ensure that the employer complies with their statutory obligations and the employee understands what they are entitled to. In circumstances where the Bill is passed into law, an appropriate policy will be provided to QCS clients in due course.