The death of a child is an understandably difficult time for any parent. Coping mechanisms during periods of grief will differ from individual to individual, with some working parents eager to return to work and their previous routine, whilst others will want a longer period of time to grieve. Returning to work too soon and not having enough time to undertake the grieving process can have a significant detrimental impact on the health, and mental health, of an individual. Following campaigning from MPs and parental rights groups, there will now be a legal right for parents to take an extended time off work and be paid, where eligible.
The Parental Bereavement Act 2018 has introduced a day-one right to take two weeks of leave where a working parent suffers the loss of a child under the age of 18, or a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. The leave can be taken immediately following the bereavement or within 56 days of this date, meaning some parents may decide to return to work before having a period of time off. There will also be a right to be paid for this period should the parent meet specific eligibility criteria. These rights are expected to be introduced by 2020, although a specific date or timeline have not been specified by the government.
Currently, there remains a number of key areas which are yet to be confirmed as the Act requires further regulations to outline the specific details. For example, the eligibility criteria to receive pay and the rate of pay, i.e. whether this will be the statutory rate or not, is currently unknown. Additionally, the Act does not define which individuals will be classed as a ‘parent’ and whether this will extend to those who have caring responsibilities for the child, such as foster parents, adoptive parents or legal guardians.
Many organisations are aware that the law does not currently provide a period of extended bereavement or compassionate leave. Eligible employees can use their right to a reasonable amount of time off for dependants to handle an emergency situation. This time off will usually provide the employee with leave at the time of the bereavement, but will usually only provide one or two days of leave.
There are, however, organisations who choose to provide compassionate leave as a company benefit to support employees during these difficult times. These policies will differ from organisation to organisation as to how much time off is provided, and whether this is paid or unpaid. Such a policy can also signpost the employees to additional support, such as an Employee Assistance Programme or external counselling services. Where these policies are in place, organisations will have to review these and ensure that they meet the new legal minimums once they are in place.