Many employers already offer employees compassionate leave on a discretionary basis at very difficult times, such as after the loss of a child or another close relative. The government has recognised that not all employers respond in this way and that the loss of a child can have a devastating impact on parents. Currently employees only have a right to take reasonable time off where it is necessary to deal with an emergency, such as the death of a dependent, but there is no right to pay. The government now considers that it is important to protect all employees by ensuring that those who need the time away to grieve have a statutory right to do so, and that provided they have at least 26 weeks' continuous service, they should receive, as a minimum, statutory rate of pay.
Much of the detail of the new right to parental bereavement leave will be set out in regulations in due course. However, the draft Bill outlines the key elements which we have summarised as follows –
- A "bereaved parent" who suffers the death of a child under the age of 18 will be entitled to a total of two weeks' leave
- The leave must be taken within 56 days of the child's death
- Where more than one child has died, the bereaved parent is entitled to leave (and pay if the employee meets the relevant conditions) in respect of each child
- Bereaved parents with at least 26 weeks' continuous service will also be eligible for statutory parental bereavement pay
- Employers will be able to claim back some, if not all, parental bereavement pay from the government
- Any agreement to exclude or limit the right to leave or pay is void
- Employees will be protected from detriment, redundancy and dismissal as a result of them taking bereavement leave
- The right to leave and pay only applies to employees (currently defined as "a person who is gainfully employed in Great Britain either under a contract of service or in an office (including an elective office) with earnings" - although this definition may be changed by regulations)
Regulations will be published in due course setting out the detail, including for example:
- The conditions as to the relationship with the child which must be met for qualifying as a "bereaved parent", for the purposes of leave and pay
- Notices, evidence and other procedures needed to obtain leave
- Record keeping requirements on employers
- The employment terms and conditions which will apply during the leave (note there will be no right to normal remuneration)
- Rights about pensions and terms and conditions of employment on return after the leave etc
- Rights on redundancy or other dismissal during leave
- The rate of statutory bereavement pay
- Whether the new rights will be extended to parents of still- borns after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
We understand that the new right should come into force some time in 2020. In the meantime, it is likely that employers may wish to consider putting in place a policy on bereavement in advance of the new law coming into force, if their organisation doesn't have one already. Once the regulations are published, this can then be updated to cater for any technical changes which need to be made at the time.
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