Employment law provides a structural mechanism to help employees deal with many significant life events: sick pay during times of illness, maternity leave and pay when an employee has a baby, for example. Until now, however, the Government has avoided creating a minimum set of rights for employees who experience bereavement. A new Bill will change this and for the first time employees will get paid time off to grieve.
Current Position on Bereavement Leave
Employers are currently able to set their own rules on bereavement leave and pay for their employees because of an absence of law in this area. Because of that, contractual entitlements differ from organisation to organisation. Many use their discretion in individual circumstances depending on various factors including the relationship of the employee to the person who has died.
There are already special provisions within laws on maternity leave which allow a mother to still take all of her maternity leave in the event that her child is still born but this does not apply in all circumstances.
The right to take time off for dependants allows employee to take emergency time off when a dependant dies but does not provide a right to take time off to grieve.
The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill will give parents a statutory right to take paid leave in the event that their child dies. The Bill applies in this situation only; it does not provide for paid leave in the event of a death of a parent, spouse or any other relationship. The main elements will be:
- Minimum entitlement to 2 weeks’ leave;
- Minimum pay entitlement will be similar to that payable during maternity/paternity leave etc. Employees will receive the standard rate (currently £140.98 but this is likely to have increased by the time of implementation), or 90% of their normal pay rate if this is lower than the standard rate;
- It will be unlawful for an employer to dismiss an employee for taking bereavement leave and employees will be entitled to return to the role they were performing before leave started.
There are still some decisions to be made including the maximum age of the child who has died and who exactly will be able to take paid time off. It is likely to apply to birth parents, adoptive parents and step parents.
What Should Employers Do Now?
Until the Bill becomes law, employers are not required to do anything. However, it would be advisable for employers to review their current arrangements on bereavement leave. Many will already provide paid time off in the event of bereavement. If current contractual provisions offer entitlements which match or exceed those contained in the Bill, then its introduction will not require any action. However, if current entitlements do not match those that will become law, employers should prepare to amend their policy in accordance with the minimum statutory requirements.
It may be some time before the right is introduced; it is not due to debated again in parliament until late October and so is not likely to come into effect until 2019.
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