What HR needs to know about parental bereavement leave

Paid parental bereavement leave will be introduced in the UK in April 2020. We explain the new entitlements, and discuss how HR can support grieving staff

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The UK government has confirmed that paid parental bereavement leave will be introduced on 6 April 2020. We explain the new entitlements, and discuss how HR can support grieving staff

Sadly, bereavement is something that will affect all of us at some time in our lives. In fact, research suggests that 1 in 10 employees are likely to be affected by the death of a loved one at any given point.

Until recently, there has been no legal obligation for employers to provide paid time off for grieving parents, despite the prevalence of childhood deaths: around 7,600 babies, children and young people under the age of 18 died in 2017.

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees currently have the legal right to take ‘reasonable’ time off to deal with an emergency – such as the death of a child – this entitlement is only to unpaid leave and does not necessarily allow for a longer time off to grieve. This is set to change when the new Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Regulations – known as ‘Jack’s Law’ – comes into force on 6 April 2020.

Ahead of the legislation’s introduction, we explain the new entitlements, and how HR can provide flexible support for bereaved staff.

 

Who is entitled to paid parental bereavement leave?

  • Employed parents and adults with parental responsibility who have suffered the loss of a child under the age of 18
  • Adults with ‘parental responsibility’ include adopters, foster parents and guardians. It’s also expected to apply to those classed as ‘kinship carers’, who may be close relatives or family friends that have assumed responsibility for looking after a child in the absence of parents
  • The new entitlement will also apply to parents who suffer a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. In this instance, female employees will still be entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave and/or pay, as will a mother who loses a child after it is born
  • Parents and primary carers must have been employed for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks before the child’s death to be eligible for paid parental bereavement leave. All employees have a ‘day one’ right to unpaid bereavement leave

 

What are employees entitled to?

  • Parents and primary carers who have been employed for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks prior to when the child dies, and have received pay above the lower earning limit (£118 per week for 2019-20) for the previous eight weeks, are entitled to at least two weeks’ statutory paid leave (statutory rate of £148.68 per week , or 90% of average weekly earnings, where this is lower)
  • Workers who have not been employed for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks are entitled to two weeks’ unpaid leave
  • The two weeks’ leave can be taken either in one block of two weeks, or as two separate blocks of one week each. It must be taken within 56 weeks of the date of the child’s death. This is to allow for time to be taken off for difficult events such as birthdays or anniversaries
  • Notice requirements for taking the leave will be flexible, so it can be taken at short notice
  • The pay rate for bereavement leave is still to be confirmed, but is expected to be similar to the statutory rate for maternity/paternity leave
  • If an employee loses more than one child, they will be entitled to take a separate period of leave for each child

 

What else should HR be aware of?

  • Under the new legislation, employers will not be entitled to request a copy of the child’s death certificate as evidence of an employee’s right to the entitlement
  • Small employers will be able to recover all statutory parental bereavement pay, while larger organisations will be able to reclaim almost all of it
  • Employers should be cognisant that different religions have their own bereavement traditions and funeral rites that must be followed. Refusing to allow an employee to observe their beliefs and customs could amount to religious discrimination
  • Although the leave is a ‘day one’ right, some employees may not be able to take advantage of it because the time off is unpaid if during the first 26 weeks of their employment, and only paid at statutory levels thereafter
  • Be aware that, under the Data Protection Act 2018, employees have the right to keep details of their child’s death confidential. It is vital for HR and line managers to be clear on how much detail employees would like their colleagues to know, and ensure that their wishes are respected
  • While introducing a legal entitlement to two weeks’ parental bereavement leave is undoubtedly a positive step, it is important to be aware that people recover at different rates: in one study of bereaved UK adults, 30% stated that they needed more than two weeks before they felt able to go back to work, so you will want to be flexible, supportive and sensitive to your employee’s needs during this difficult time. You may also want to consider offering additional paid leave; for example, Facebook enables employees to take up to 20 days’ paid leave to grieve for an immediate family member
  • Employees who suffer a loss may experience mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which could constitute a disability under the Equality Act 2010. In these cases, you must seek medical advice and make reasonable adjustments. Offering counselling could also help bereaved parents on their road to recovery

Although managing bereavement in the workplace is challenging for any HR team, treating employees with kindness and compassion at such a traumatic time will be beneficial to all. Not only will staff feel supported and valued, but the loyalty and engagement this will engender will benefit the organisation as a whole.

This article was first published in August 2019. It was updated in January 2020 when the UK government confirmed the entitlement will become law in April 2020.