The Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Bill has recently received Royal Assent, and is expected to come into force in April 2020.
In this article we briefly revisit the current framework before turning to what we currently know about the form and function of the 2020 legislation.
What are an employee's current rights?
There is no comprehensive statutory framework in respect of compassionate leave. Wide discretion is afforded to an employer in supporting employees who have lost children, family or friends. An employer may currently exercise its discretion through staff handbooks, an employment contract or on a case-by-case basis.
However, employees are legally entitled to take reasonable time off where it is necessary in consequence of the death of a dependant. A dependant can include a child.
Case law has illustrated that time off in relation to a dependant’s death is only permitted in order for an employee to manage the more administrative elements of a death, including organisation of the funeral and applying for probate.
To qualify for this time off, an employee must inform their employer, as soon as is reasonably practicable, of the reason for absence and indicate how long they expect to be away from work.
The new legislation
The new legislation will add a new day-one right for employed parents who lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks, to receive 2 weeks’ leave.
- Subject to additional eligibility criteria, employees will also be entitled to statutory bereavement pay which is intended to be similar to that of statutory paternity pay. In order to qualify for this pay, a parent must have fulfilled at least 26 weeks’ employment
- Specifics as to how leave may be taken are yet to be published in regulations, but it is widely believed that leave may have to be taken within 56 days of the child’s death
- Subsequent regulations are also expected to detail how the new right will operate in relation to detriment and dismissal, and may include safeguards in this respect.
Grief generally can impact individuals in different ways, and it can be a challenge for employers when deciding how best to provide flexibility and empathy whilst maintaining performance. Whilst it may prove onerous for employers to lose employees for two weeks, the new legislation will provide an employment law benchmark for those who face the most tragic of circumstances.
A formal compassionate leave policy allows certainty for employees in times of crisis and is conducive to a lasting and positive employment relationship. A policy also maintains consistency on the part of an employer, and relieves a manager of any key decision making when dealing with difficult circumstances.
If you would like help drafting such a policy or you have one already that you think would benefit from a review, please contact one of the employment team to discuss.
For the government press release concerning the new legislation, please visit: UK first: Parents who lose a child entitled to bereavement leave.
For more information on managing bereavement in the workplace, please visit: ACAS Bereavement in the workplace.