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Government Publishes Parental Bereavement Leave Bill

Laura Binnie

Laura Binnie, Associate Solicitor in our Employment law team, explains the recently published Parental Bereavement Bill.

Published earlier this month by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill (“the Bill”) seeks to make it compulsory for employers to offer a ‘day one’ right of two weeks’ paid leave to parents who lose a child under the age of 18 (including a still birth after 24 weeks of pregnancy). 

The Bill also provides powers which would allow employed parents, with a minimum of 26 weeks’ continuous service, to be eligible for at least two weeks of parental bereavement pay at the prescribed statutory weekly rate or at 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) to grieve the loss of their child in a setting away from the workplace, the cost of which employers will be able to recover part of or fully from the Government. 

Forming part of the Government’s pledge to “enhance rights and protections in the workplace”, the Bill ensures that the same employment protections for other forms of family related leave, such as maternity and adoption, will also be afforded to parents who take the bereavement leave, including protection from detriment, redundancy and dismissal as a result of having taken the leave. 

Current Position

Whilst employers are expected to be understanding and flexible, there is currently no statutory provision that requires employers to provide paid leave for grieving parents. Under the Employment Rights Act 1996 employees have the right to take a “reasonable” amount of unpaid time off work following the death of a dependant, although what is deemed as reasonable is at the discretion of the employer and will largely depend on the individual circumstances. 

Details of the bill have been published in readiness for its second reading on 20 October 2017, which will allow MPs to debate the merits and principles of the Bill in its current form for the first time. Once complete, the Bill will then proceed to the committee stage; it is hoped that the Bill will be enacted, after its final approval, to become law in 2020.

Practical Guidance

While bereavement can be somewhat of a ‘grey area’ for employers to manage effectively, Acas has produced guidance which includes good practice suggestions for managing an affected employee’s absence and their pending return to the workplace. The guidance provides useful advice and highlights that employers need to consider how grief will affect their employee, and for managers to be accommodating and supportive. 

It is prudent for employers to consider advance planning and putting in place a specific bereavement policy in order to manage these difficult situations. This may include information relating to any specific entitlement to bereavement leave (i.e. length of leave, paid time off (if any)), notification of absence, matters concerning their return to work and any necessary adjustments. It is also always worth making employees aware of any counselling services that they may be entitled to. 

For further information or legal advice, please contact Laura Binnie or a member of our Employment law team.

This blog article was produced with support from Christopher Cameron.

This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.