Currently, should an employee of yours suffer the tragic loss of a child, they have the right to take unpaid time off to deal with an emergency which would include the death of a dependant. This comes under the statutory right to Time off for Dependant Leave, but this right only extends to a day or two.
Other than that, your employees are only able to rely on the generosity of you as their employer in terms of any time off that they can take. This normally comes in the form of compassionate leave, which may be paid or unpaid according to the discretion of the employer and it is also up to the employer to decide how much time they are allowed to take.
The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill has received Royal Assent, becoming the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 which will give all employed parents a statutory right to two weeks' leave if they lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy. This comes into effect in April 2020.
Consultation took place as to the definition of ‘parent’ for the purposes of this legislation and the Government has focussed on the notion of ‘primary carer’. Therefore, as well as legal parents of the child, foster parents, legal guardians, adopters, kinship carers and individuals who have obtained court orders giving them day to day responsibility for the child will be entitled to this statutory right.
The Act provides for 2 weeks of leave to be taken within 56 weeks of the child’s death. This extended period of time to take time off allows for the fact that some parents may wish to take time off on or around the first anniversary of the death of the child to assist with their grieving process. This leave must be taken in blocks of one or two weeks.
The right to the leave is a day-one right, i.e. there is no length of service qualification, however, in order for the leave to be paid, your employee must have 26 weeks service in the week before the death of the child and must have earnt on average at least the lower earnings limit in the 8 weeks ending with the week before the death of the child.
The rate of Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay is anticipated to mirror the other family related statutory payments such as Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Parental pay and Statutory Paternity Pay.
What does this mean for you?
Given that this right is not expected to come into force until April 2020, there is unlikely to be any immediate action to be taken however, employers should be mindful of the fact that employees should not suffer any detriment as a consequence of them exercising their right under this new entitlement. Any business considering restructuring or redundancy exercises for next year should be mindful to factor in any tragic circumstance that may occur during this process.
Losing a child is extremely stressful and whilst the provisions of this Act are welcome, employers should consider the mental welfare of their employees. The cost to the business of poor psychological and mental health can be significant and therefore you may wish to consider how you can offer further support at such a difficult time for example, providing additional time off, counselling or an Employee Assistance Programme.
If you have any queries or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the Alcumus PSM HR team for assistance.
Alcumus PSM (People & Safety Management) specialises in human resources (HR) and health and safety (H&S) consulting for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Written by Marie-Clare Swallow, Senior HR Consultant