Parental bereavement leave
25 October 2018
This article was featured in the November 2018 issue of the magazine.
Danny Done, managing director at Portfolio Payroll, outlines what employers could and should be doing or considering
During the difficult time of bereavement, employees may suffer periods of grieving which greatly affect their wellbeing and their ability to attend and carry out work. There can be misconceptions surrounding the rights to take bereavement leave, with both employers and staff uncertain of the relevant legal entitlement. The recent enactment of the Parental Bereavement Act 2018 has taken positive steps to clarify workplace support in these circumstances.
Following significant campaigning from various members of parliament and parental rights groups, the Parental Bereavement Bill received royal assent. The Act sets out the new legal entitlement, which is expected to be introduced in 2020.
Under this law, working parents will have a day-one right to two weeks of leave should they suffer the loss of a child under the age of 18, or a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Employed parents will also have the potential to claim pay for this period; however, this will be subject to meeting eligibility criteria which, alongside the rate of pay, have yet to be confirmed.
The new right to paid leave is aimed at improving the workplace support available for working parents during this difficult and distressing time, preventing their workplace commitments from placing them under an obligation to rush back to full-time employment. Under the current legislation, there is no clear definition of who will qualify as a ‘parent’ to take the leave. Therefore, it is unknown whether this right will simply apply to biological parents or extend to those who are involved in caring for the child, such as foster parents, adoptive parents or legal guardians. The government have confirmed that this information, as well as a number of other intricacies, will be announced at a later date and outlined in further regulations to be made by the secretary of state.
...review any existing policies on the matter and consider where alterations may be required...
The legislation has confirmed that eligible parents will have up to 56 days following the date of the bereavement to activate their leave. This is designed to give employees the freedom to use their leave in a way that most benefits them. Whilst some may wish to take the leave immediately following the bereavement, others may prefer to return to work for a period first in an attempt to regain a sense of routine. Employers should also keep in mind that it is extremely unlikely that they will have a statutory entitlement to postpone any requests for bereavement leave, although they may be able to discuss this on a one-to-one basis with each employee. Whether there will be an opportunity to take some leave, return to work for a period and then take any remaining leave will also have to be further clarified.
In spite of the above, employers are reminded that that there is currently no legal requirement to offer staff any form of extended bereavement or compassionate leave prior to 2020. Eligible employees are currently entitled to time off for dependants (TOD) which provides a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid time off to deal with an emergency situation. This will typically be utilised by parents or those with other care responsibilities at the time of the bereavement; however, TOD will usually not provide an extended period of leave to undertake a grieving process.
Whilst there is no legal entitlement currently, many employers recognise that employees will require support and understanding in this situation. As such, there are organisations which offer compassionate leave to their employees.
Employers are currently free to determine their own rules around the length of time allowed and whether this is paid. It may be beneficial, however, to provide employees with suitable time off to prevent any detrimental impact on health, including mental health, that can arise if the employee returns to work too soon following a bereavement.
Employers that offer compassionate leave may also be inclined to supplement this with further assistance for bereaved staff. Employee assistance programmes are a particularly popular choice in this regard, providing grieving employees with access to confidential counselling services to aid in their recovery. Additionally, staff may be allowed to undergo a phased return to work following a period of compassionate leave to ensure they are not overwhelmed by their work responsibilities.
Ultimately it is important to note that the decision of whether or not staff are entitled to bereavement leave is currently determined by their respective employer. However, this is expected to change in 2020 when the legal right to parental bereavement leave will become effective. In anticipation of this change, employers would be wise to review any existing policies on the matter and consider where alterations may be required. It will also be important to ensure human resources personnel and line managers receive adequate training on these new regulations and how they will apply to staff going forward.