From 6 April 2020, any parent who suffers a stillbirth or loses a child under the age of 18 will be entitled to two weeks’ statutory bereavement leave.

Inspired by the heartbreaking stories of parents who were forced to worked through the grief of losing a child, the new laws are described by ministers as the most generous parental bereavement entitlement in the world, giving parents an automatic right to time off and pay after a qualifying period.

Here’s what you need to know.

Background

The Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill, proposed by MP Kevin Hollinrake, was first presented to Parliament on 19 July 2016, with the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act receiving royal assent in September 2018. The legislation later adopted the name Jack’s Law in memory of Jack Herd, a 23-month-old who tragically drowned in a pond in 2010. At the time, the infant’s mother, Lucy Herd, discovered she was only entitled to three days off to work, one of which had to be the funeral.

The government has now confirmed that the legislation will come into force from April 2020. The new rules mean better support for 10,000 families across the UK.

What rights does the law provide at present?

Although it is expected that employers will be flexible with parents who have suffered the loss of a child, there is currently no specific statutory right to bereavement leave under UK law.

Under the Employment Rights Act, all employees, irrespective of their length of service, are entitled to the right to take unpaid time off to deal with emergencies and unforeseen matters involving a dependant, including following the death of a child. However, the law does not specify how much time off can be taken, only that it should be “reasonable”. It could therefore be a few hours or one or two days, depending on the individual circumstances.

In practice, the lack of any set entitlement has enabled employers to deal with bereavement leave in accordance with their own policies. Some may choose to offer paid leave as standard and allow employees as much time as they need to process the loss and make all necessary arrangements. Others may insist that time off is taken as sick leave or holiday.

"More and more people told me they had experienced the same thing. Employers were saying 'take as much time as you need', and they were taking six months off, and it was down on their record as being off sick. They'd come back to a P45 on their desk."

Lucy Herd

How will this change from April 2020?

Under Jack’s Law, all bereaved parents will be entitled to at least two weeks’ leave following the death of a child, which will be a right from day one of employment.

In addition, those with 26 weeks’ continuous service and average earnings at or above the lower earnings limit (£118 per week) will also be entitled to statutory parental bereavement pay of £151.20 per week or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

What’s the cost to employers?

Will Quince MP, who has been heavily involved in campaigning for paid bereavement leave following the death of his son in 2014, says it is difficult to predict the total cost of statutory entitlement. Research indicates it could be approximately £2 million per year, though much will depend on the uptake, as some parents may prefer to remain in work.

In a motion for leave in 2016, Quince stated: “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.”

To alleviate the financial burden on employers, smaller businesses will be able to claim back the full amount of bereavement pay from the government and larger business will be able to reclaim most of it. For those employers who already offer fully paid leave, the ability to recover some of this expense will be a positive change.

"I cannot stress enough how important it is that parents are given time and space to grieve in the aftermath of a child’s death. Support from employers can play a huge part in this. We are pleased the government has laid out the minimum provision for bereaved parents, and we know many employers will go much further than this."

Chief Executive, Cruse Bereavement Care

How can leave be taken?

The statutory two weeks’ bereavement leave can be taken in one go or in two separate one-week blocks up until the first anniversary of the child’s death.

As one mother who lost her son to childhood cancer explains, “You may find later on, as the days and the weeks and the months go on, you realise that your child is not coming back and that’s a massive reality check”. For this reason, parents may wish to retain part of their bereavement leave to allow them time off at a later date.

Do the new rules apply only to child bereavement?

Yes. Jack’s Law only applies to parents who have a lost a child. Time off following the death of other dependants – such as a spouse, partner, grandchild, parent or anyone who depends on you for care – is still subject to existing laws allowing a “reasonable” amount of unpaid leave.

If the employee is suffering from the loss of a person that falls outside the definition of a dependent, employers may grant leave at their discretion.

Are you prepared?

The right to statutory bereavement leave and pay is just one of the employment reforms coming into effect from April 2020.

Director of Legal Services

James Tamm

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