Calls for Paid Bereavement Leave

MP Will Quince has submitted a Bill to Parliament to provide employees with a statutory right to bereavement leave.

The Bill is proposing to amend the Employment Rights Act 1996 to provide parents with a statutory right to two weeks of paid leave following the death of their child.

What does the existing law say?

Unlike numerous other EU countries, there are no specific statutory rights for workers to take leave for compassionate or bereavement reasons. In the UK, employers do not have a statutory duty to grant paid leave to an employee who has suffered bereavement. However, under the Employment Rights Act, all employees are entitled to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off in the event of the death of a dependant, for example, to arrange a funeral. Dependants include spouses, partners, children and parents and what is reasonable will depend on the circumstances.

What are the problems that arise from the law as it currently stands?

From an employee’s point of view, there are a number of issues with the law at present. They are not paid for leave on compassionate grounds. The law only grants time off in relation to the loss of a dependant as defined. If the employee is suffering from the loss of a person that falls outside the definition of a dependent, it is subject to the employer’s discretion as to whether they can have time off.  Additionally, there is no set limit for the number of days that can be taken in these circumstances.

Does this Bill alleviate many of these concerns?

No. It only affords legal protection to parents who have a lost a child, not to other bereavements. Will Quince MP argues that people who lose a child deserve to be protected by the law and they should not be subject to the judgement of their employer no matter how sympathetic they are.

What would be the cost to employers?

Will Quinn says that it is difficult to predict the total cost, but he states that research indicates it could be approximately £2 million per year. He adds “I am certainly alive to the pressures on businesses at the moment—especially small businesses—and I am loath to introduce any additional regulatory burden. However, given the relatively and thankfully small number of bereaved parents annually, the cost to business would be small. There is also an argument that such a proposal is beneficial to business. Most employers already go out of their way to treat their staff with compassion and often give them fully paid leave”.

Now it has been submitted to Parliament, what happens next?

The Bill will receive its second reading on the 28th October 2016.

Is it certain that the Bill will be passed?

No. This is a Private Members Bill and these often do not survive all the legislative hoops required to become statute. It is important to note that other attempts to establish specific statutory bereavement rights have failed in recent years.

If you have any questions about leave on compassionate or bereavement grounds, please do contact you designated Employment Law Advisor.

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James Tamm

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