From 6 April 2020, the
Government will be implementing the statutory right for employees to take up to
two weeks’ leave following the death of a child under 18, or a stillbirth
(after 24 weeks of pregnancy). The Government reported last month that “this is the most generous offer on parental
bereavement pay and leave in the world”. The reforms have been nicknamed
‘Jack’s Law’ in memory of Jack Herd. His mother, Lucy, campaigned for
the legal changes after Jack drowned in 2010 at 23 months old.
The right to parental bereavement
leave (PBL) will be a ‘day one’ right for all employees who will not need a
minimum period of service to be entitled to take PBL. The leave can be taken in
two blocks of one week or together as a two week block and the employee must
qualify as a “bereaved parent” under the legislation. ‘Parent’ is interpreted
widely and includes someone who has responsibility for the child and has been
living with them for the four weeks prior to death. The leave can be taken at
any time between the death and 56 weeks after, which will enable parents to
take time off around the anniversary of the child’s death should they wish.
To qualify for the corresponding
statutory right to pay for PBL, employees will also need to have been employed
for at least 26 weeks (six months) and earn at least the lower earnings limit
(currently £118 per week). Statutory parental bereavement pay (SPBP) will be
paid at the same rate as statutory maternity pay or shared parental pay.
Although there are
technicalities surrounding the amount of notice employees are required to give
depending on how close the leave they wish to take is to the death of the
child, practically employers are likely to want to keep the administration
issues simple and flexible in order to keep further stress and disruption to a
minimum at a time which will be already very difficult for the employee.
However, this may affect the payment of SPBP.
Employers may also find that the
employee’s circumstances overlap between PBL and different types of leave such
as the statutory right to time off for dependents or a company policy on
compassionate leave. The death may even trigger a deterioration in the employee’s
mental health whereby they need to take sick leave.
Employers should therefore be aware that accounting for the implementation of PBL may need to be part of a wider people strategy with a focus on employee wellbeing. Employers should consider whether a new PBL policy needs to be implemented or whether current compassionate leave or family leave policies just need updating. Employers are also free to increase the entitlements to PBL and SPBP beyond the statutory minimum and may wish to review flexible working practices, the availability of Employee Assistance Programmes and employees’ access to counselling services.
The contents of this article are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this article. © Mundays LLP.