Parental Bereavement Leave
The Parental Bereavement Leave (Statutory Entitlement) Bill 2016-17 proposes to allow parents a statutory right to two weeks of paid leave after suffering the loss of a child.
Earlier this year, the National Council for Palliative Care issued a new programme to support businesses in dealing with employees suffering from bereavement. This was a result of research which suggested that 56% of people would leave their job if their employer did not provide proper bereavement support. Following on from this, a Private Member’s Bill has been introduced to specifically address Bereavement Leave for parents on the death of their child.
The Parental Bereavement Leave (Statutory Entitlement) Bill 2016-17 (the Bill) was put before the House of Commons on 6 September 2016, and received its second reading on 28 October. This Bill is a Private Members Bill and follows earlier (and unsuccessful) calls in 2013 and 2014 for the introduction of specific statutory rights for Bereavement Leave.
Currently, employees who have suffered a bereavement can only rely on the existing statutory right to take a ‘reasonable’ period of time off to deal with an emergency, such as a bereavement involving a dependent, or an employer’s policy in this area, if they have one or discretion if they don’t have one.
Technically time off to care for dependants only provides emergency unpaid leave and is specifically to take action necessary as a consequence of the death of a dependant. The type of action contemplated by the statute is arranging the funeral or registering the death. Therefore employees needing a longer period of time to cope with the emotional reaction reaction to a death resort to taking a combination of sick leave, holiday and unpaid leave.
The Parental Bereavement Leave (Statutory Entitlement) Bill 2016-17A
The Parental Bereavement Leave (Statutory Entitlement) Bill 2016-17A seeks to amend the Employment Rights Act 1996 by introducing two weeks’ paid leave for any employee who suffers the loss of a child. It is expected that pay would be equivalent to the statutory entitlement to maternity or paternity pay.
The Bill points out a current inconsistency in the law, in that a mother whose child is still-born is still entitled to take the full period of maternity leave and the father to paternity leave, but if their child died at a later age such as two years old, they would not have any statutory entitlement to leave.
Introducing a statutory framework for Bereavement Leave will avoid the potential for inconsistency, which as a minimum could affect staff morale and in more serious cases, lead to discrimination claims. Some larger employers, such as Asda, Heinz and Unilever already provide ten days’ paid leave, with the suggestion that this is a benefit that many staff never need to use and so it is unlikely to be abused.
There is also a separate issue relating to the different religious approaches to bereavement. In Hinduism, when a death occurs, relatives are required to observe a 13-day mourning period after cremation. In Judaism, family members are required to stay at home for seven days of mourning after a death. Whilst employers could use their discretion when dealing with an employee of a certain religion to avoid discrimination, having a clear statutory framework as a starting point may help to avoid issues in this area.
The current proposal for two weeks’ leave would leapfrog the UK ahead of other countries – currently Canada provides three days’ paid leave, provided an employee has three months’ service, Israel provides seven and Albania provides five – and there has been some concern that this is too long.
Clearly some employees will want to get back to work quickly after a bereavement, to avoid isolation at home and assist with carrying on with their lives, whilst others will not feel able to cope for some time. There is also the issue of who the leave should cover – should you just be entitled to take leave on the death of a child? Statistically, many more people of working age will lose a parent, so allowing paid time off when a parent dies is likely to have a bigger impact on businesses. This is obviously a complex and highly sensitive area and it will be difficult for the government to legislate appropriately for all individual circumstances.