The current law on parental bereavement leave is somewhat ambiguous. The Employment Rights Act says that where an employee’s child dies, they are entitled ‘to take a reasonable amount of time off’. What is reasonable is agreed between the employer and the employee, but on the whole employers are expected to be understanding and flexible in their approach.
The Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill was published on 13 October 2017. The proposed legislation would cement the rights of bereaved parents by providing a legal right to leave and pay. Employees who lose a child under the age of 18 would be given the right to two weeks’ leave, regardless of length of service. The bereavement leave would have to be taken within 56 days of the child’s passing, giving the employees some much-needed flexibility. If this became legislation, any existing agreement that excluded an employee from taking bereavement leave would be made void, and the employee will be protected from dismissal, redundancy or any detriment due to their bereavement leave.
Those who have been with the company for at least 26 weeks would also qualify for Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay. The amount paid would be whichever is lower out of the prescribed rate or 90% of the employee’s average earnings. Employers would be able to reclaim all or most of this amount from HMRC, depending on the size of the company.
Employers should be aware that this bill will not impact any existing rights to leave or pay such as parental leave or maternity pay. We would envisage that if the Bill were to come into force, it will be particularly important in cases where a baby is stillborn. In such tragic cases, a woman would be entitled to both bereavement leave and pay, as well as and maternity leave and pay, providing she had completed 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Whilst this is not yet in force and it is not envisaged that the Bill will be passed before 2020, In the meantime, employers should aim to be as understanding as possible towards any employees going through this difficult time. Although the vast majority of employers show great empathy and understanding in these situations, post-traumatic stress disorder is not uncommon in such circumstances and employees should not be pushed to return to work before they are ready. If you have any questions about how to balance the needs of your employees with the needs of your business, get in touch with your dedicated Legal Manager today.