03 November 2017
Recent research undertaken by CPJ Field found that one in four workers in the UK did not take any time off following the death of a loved one, with one in ten only taking one day away from the workplace to grieve.
While many employers nowadays have a contractual compassionate / bereavement leave clause or policy covering paid or unpaid time off in such circumstances, other organisations do not. In such cases, workers report that they are forced to use annual leave or take unpaid leave to attend the funeral, whilst others fear losing their jobs.
Currently, all workers are entitled to take a “reasonable” amount of time off to care for dependents. However, what amounts to a “reasonable” period and whether it is paid varies between workplaces and therefore it is left as a grey area for employers to manage.
The 2017 Conservative Party Election Manifesto included a number of promises that provide increased support for family matters, including proposals to provide the right to look after family or friends who are in full time care. It also included the proposal to provide rights to parents who have suffered the loss of a child. Though the government has yet to act, a Private Members Bill was proposed by Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake.
The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill was published on 13 October 2017 and had its second reading in Parliament 20 October 2017. The Bill proposes to provide a number of statutory rights to parents who have lost a child under the age of 18. This includes people who have experienced a still birth after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The key elements of the Bill include;
The right to bereavement leave would be offered to parents from the day of the loss and employers would be entitled to claim back some, if not all, of the parental bereavement pay from the Government.
Business Minister Margot James has stated, “We want parents to feel properly supported by their employer when they go through the deeply distressing ordeal of losing a child. That’s why the government is backing this bill, which goes significantly further than most other countries in providing this kind of workplace right for employees.”
We understand that the new right should come into force some time in 2020 and is reflective of moves by a number of businesses who have introduced their own similar policies. For example, Aviva have enhanced its bereavement leave entitlement for staff of up to seventy hours.
The Bill has generally been well received. The Chief Executive of the Lullaby Trust has said, “We warmly welcome this new law giving paid leave to bereaved parents. Losing a child is one of the most devastating experiences that a parent can go through and it is vital that they are supported by their employer and not made to return to work before they are ready.”
Whilst we await the new right coming into force, you should consider putting in place a policy on bereavement (if you do not have one already). This can be updated closer to the time to take into account any technical changes which need to be made.
Whilst the Bill is seen as a step in the right direction in providing support to staff in the immediate term, some commentators suggest that this does not go far enough in considering the longer-term effects of losing a child. This can be addressed by giving thought to additional measures beyond the initial two-week period such as:
Such steps will help staff to feel supported and hopefully avoid absences for stress or depression.
Employers should consider that the need to support staff at difficult periods in their life should not just depend on following legislation. Staff are likely to greatly appreciate an employer that prioritises their individual needs and this is likely to be repaid not just by the employee concerned through loyalty and less absences but colleagues will also recognise and appreciate working for a sympathetic and understanding employer.
One problem with legislation is that it is very unlikely to cover every individual’s specific needs, so besides there being no need to wait until the parental bereavement legislation comes into force, employers may also want to consider the legal requirements as a minimum standard and be flexible in the support offered.