Just before Parliament broke up for its summer break, the Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill was introduced into the House. The bill proposes that employed parents who have lost a child will, for the first time, get statutory paid leave to grieve.
Although it is a private member’s bill, it is supported by the government and follows the Conservative manifesto which proposed bereavement support for employees.
Currently, there is no legal requirement for employers to provide paid leave for grieving parents. Employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with emergencies only. This could include the death of a dependent, but what is reasonable is unclear and generally the right to this time off is seen as being short term and for the purposes of making immediate arrangements to deal with the emergency.
Some organisations, especially small businesses, may be concerned about more regulation to comply with (whatever happened to the red tape challenge?), but if it comes into law, the Bill should give clarity about agreed rights in such terrible circumstances.
The details of the proposed law have not yet been settled on and will be discussed over the summer by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy working with employers, employee representatives and campaigners.
The Lullaby Trust has welcomed the bill. Francine Bates, CEO, said that “We know many bereaved parents who have campaigned tirelessly for paid compassionate leave after the death of a child. We hope this bill will help parents who have lost their baby suddenly and unexpectedly and need time away from work to grieve for their child.”
In the meantime, Acas already has existing guidance on managing grieving in the workplace (http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4977) which I recommend employers take into account before making any decisions when faced with bereaved employees.
In particular, it points out that the effect of grief can manifest itself both physically and mentally, resulting in a long-term condition or illness. This could lead to changes in behaviour at work, such as more absence or a drop in performance, and employers will need to respond to such changes sensitively and bearing in mind that a long term condition can give rise to disability discrimination issues.
Employers should consider having a written bereavement or compassionate leave policy in place now to provide certainty and security at such a difficult time.
If you would like to discuss anything raised in this article further, please do not hesitate to contact Ben Stepney in our employment team.