A new Bill has been published which will entitle parents who lose a child under the age of 18 to two weeks' paid leave.
The Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill, if it becomes law, will entitle all employees to parental bereavement leave, regardless of their service length. Those who have 26 weeks' continuous service will also benefit from statutory parental bereavement pay, the cost of which employers will be able to recover from the Government.
Currently, whilst employers are expected to be understanding and flexible, there is no legal obligation to allow parents paid time off to grieve.
Under the Employment Rights Act employees only have a day-one right to take a 'reasonable' amount of unpaid time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant, including making arrangements following a death.
A dependant could be a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or someone who depends on the employee for care and this usually covers time off to arrange or attend a funeral.
Regarding a “reasonable” amount of time off to deal with the emergency there’s no set amount of time as it depends on the situation and employers don’t have to pay the employee for that time taken. As a result, what constitutes a 'reasonable' period and whether it’s paid varies between workplaces and makes it a ‘grey area’ for employers to manage effectively.
However, many employers nowadays have a contractual compassionate / bereavement leave clause or policy covering paid or unpaid time off in such circumstances.
The bill’s second reading will be on 20 October, with the aim of it becoming law in 2020. Watch this space to see whether this bill goes all the way through the system to becoming law.
From a practical people management perspective, employers should really want to support their staff who have suffered a bereavement and also need to consider how grief may affect them in the longer term, not just the immediate aftermath. Possible solutions could include providing flexible working and access to counselling or employee assistance programmes, ensuring managers are understanding and supportive. Like anything that may affect productivity, helping people to adapt or manage their work when they are struggling to cope is the best approach to take. The employer should ideally attempt to avoid the situation where the person feels like they have no choice but to take time off work for say stress or depression in order to cope.