Parental leave for bereavement

First published on 09 March 2020 by Alastair
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As well as IR35 and whatever other changes the budget throws up this week, one important change that will occur from 6th April this year is the statutory right to take parental bereavement leave will come into force

Also known as Jack's Law, this legislation came as a result of Lucy Heard, who lost her son Jack, and was shocked at the amount of time her partner was (not) given off work to help her during that very difficult time.  Her consequent campaign resulted in The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill, first published in Parliament in October 2017.  This proposed increasing protection for working parents who suffer the loss of a child under the age of 18, giving them a legal entitlement to a two-week period of statutory bereavement leave.

A consultation followed in 2018, aiming to clarify just how should be entitled to this leave, how long it should be and when it could be taken.  The results of this have informed and guided the subsequent changes. 

What this means is that employees will be allowed two weeks of leave if they suffer either a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy or the death of a child under the age of 18. This will be applicable from the first day of employment and employees can take these weeks either as one single block of two weeks' leave, or two separate blocks of one week's leave. A key change compared to the original legislation is that they will have 56 weeks following the death of their child in which to take this leave - significantly more than the 56 days previously offered.

It is understood that this right will apply to employees who fall into the following categories in relation to the child: birth parents; adoptive parent; legal guardians; those with court orders providing daily care responsibilities; foster parents (although it may not include emergency foster care); and kinship carers.

We note that this leave is not expected to replace any existing provisions in place to assist employees, such as the right to take time off for dependants or to deal with emergencies involving dependants such as children (which, obviously, could include the sudden death of a child. Employers need to be aware that employees are legally protected from being unfairly dismissed, or subjected to any detrimental action, as a result of taking this leave.

How this will work

We understand that if an employee wishes to take the leave within 56 days of their child's death, they must tell their employer either before they are due to start work on their first day of absence, or as soon as is reasonably practical. After the initial 56- day period, they will need to provide at least one week's notice. They must tell the employer the date of the child's death, the date when they want their chosen period of absence to begin and whether the absence will be for one or two weeks.

As regards rights to pay, employees with 26 weeks' or more continuous service with an organisation will be eligible for payment of statutory bereavement leave pay. It is expected that this will be paid at the same rate as other family related leave (e.g. maternity and paternity leave) but employers can provide an enhanced rate, such as full payment, if they wish (although this will not be a legal requirement).

With this change being implemented at the start of the new tax year, employers need to make sure they prepare for it by adjusting their company procedures and policies. Obviously, it is not something that anyone wants to have to go through and everyone will hope that such cases are very few and far between.

Julie Downie, Accounts Manager

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