New law gives time off and pay to bereaved parents

The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill has now been published. This will give bereaved parents the right to time off work following the death…

The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill has now been published. This will give bereaved parents the right to time off work following the death of a child and will introduce statutory parental bereavement pay for the first time. What is required by this Bill may well be less than most of you already allow or pay in these tragic circumstances, however when it is passed it will for the first time introduce a minimum requirement for all to allow bereaved parents leave with some pay.

What the Bill says

The key things in the Bill are:

  • An employee who is a bereaved parent will be entitled to be absent from work for at least two weeks in the period after the child’s death, for each child aged under 18 who has died;
  • The leave must be taken within 56 days of the death and it appears that it must be taken in blocks of a week or two weeks;
  • Regulations will  confirm exactly which relationships will count, for someone to be a bereaved parent;
  • The employee will have protection of their terms and conditions whilst taking bereavement leave (except those covering remuneration) and a right to return, with the detail to be confirmed in Regulations;
  • The Regulations may apply the right to parents of a child stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy (a point at which the mother would be entitled to maternity leave in any event);
  • Statutory parental bereavement pay will be introduced for the same two weeks, for those employees with 26 weeks service prior to the week in which the child dies and who earn over the lower earnings limit (currently £113 per week assuming the same rate is used);
  • Regulations will confirm the rate of pay, which the Bill provides can be set at a fixed and/or earnings-related rate;
  • There will be some notification requirement for entitlement to leave and pay – but this is unlikely to be onerous; and
  • An employee will be someone for whom employer’s NI contributions are paid, so this will extend to many workers (using the same definition as entitlement to SSP).

What does this mean for me?

This started out as a private member’s Bill, but as it has now been adopted by the Government it is likely to be passed into law in the near future. It is hard to see why anyone would oppose the passage of the Bill, albeit the detailed provisions may be changed as it progresses. Once it becomes law, it will need further Regulations before it applies to employers and to fill in some of the gaps. So we don’t currently know exactly when it will start to apply.

We would be surprised if this will require a significant change in practice for most of you. In many organisations bereavement leave and pay is dealt with on a discretionary case-by case basis and this may encourage more employers to consider precisely when such leave and pay should be given. If you have a policy it may need amendment to be consistent with the law, and if you don’t have one you may wish to introduce one. We are happy to help, but it may be sensible not to finalise policies until this Bill is passed and the Regulations introduced.

The most important question outstanding is the level of pay required.  The way the Bill is written might suggest that we will see a statutory rate similar to the prescribed rate used for maternity pay, but if that does turn out to be the case that would of course fall a long way short of being a right to full pay for most employees.

Comment

The Bill includes some rather surprising limitations on leave and pay.  It is hard to see why parents shouldn’t have the same time away from work if the child they lost was 18 (or older). The requirements for minimum periods of service and earnings before the right to statutory pay applies, also appear hard to explain. Low earners who move between short-term roles may be the people who most need the pay protection afforded, and the limited tragic circumstances in which it will apply make such limitations seem unnecessary. The protection the Bill affords to bereaved parents is laudable, but we suspect the minimum requirements under the Bill fall a long way short of what most of you will do as a norm.

Please also do not forget that employees currently do have the right to time off (without pay) where it is necessary as a consequence of a dependent’s death (albeit this is a limited right which does not extend to a right to compassionate leave).

If you have any questions about this law or you need assistance with any issues relating to employee time off, please speak to Phil Allen (phil.allen@weightmans.com) or your usual advisor in the Weightmans employment, pensions and immigration.

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