3rd January 2019
As of Thursday, 13th September 2018, UK Government has passed a new law that will entitle parents who have lost a child under the age of eighteen or suffered a miscarriage after the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy to take bereavement leave. It is a first in UK history.
The new Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Act 2018 is sought to come into force as of 2020 and will allow mourning parents to take two weeks’ leave. The new legislation will also see that employed parents are able to claim pay for the two week period if they meet the eligibility criteria.
How the Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Act will Work
The Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Act will be a day one right, meaning that all employed parents will be entitled to take their two weeks’ leave regardless of the time they have been with their current employer – there will be no criteria to meet in order to obtain eligibility.
Many details of the legislation are yet to be determined, such as who will qualify as a ‘bereaved parent’ and the scope of time in which the leave must be taken. It currently stands that the leave must be taken within fifty-six days of the death, however, there is capacity for this time to be extended. The exact period will be specified in the regulations.
What is the Eligibility Criteria for Pay?
While all employed parents will be entitled to take bereavement leave after the loss of a child or pregnancy, not all will be eligible for pay during this period. To qualify, employees will need to have sufficient service and earnings. Those who do will be entitled to Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay.
Statutory Parental Bereavement pay falls under the same eligibility criteria specified for Paternity pay and the rate of pay will be the same as for Paternity Pay and Shared Parental pay; although the regulations for the new law may have Act specific amendments. These will all be available once the finite details of the new law have been finalised.
What will the new Law Mean for Employers?
As we have at least twelve months between now and when the Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Act comes into play, it is a little premature to update any compassionate leave policies or take any other immediate action to accommodate this new law.
Until the new Act is enforced, employees will remain able to take unpaid leave in the event of an emergency, including the death of a child. If an employer specifically allows staff to take paid leave under their individual compassionate leave policy, paid time off may be granted in this instance.
As many employers already have a fairly substantial bereavement policy enacted, it is unlikely that they will need to make a lot of amendments at all, if any. In fact, the most impact that the new law will have is likely to be the protection of employees against dismissal or any other detriment as a result of having taken bereavement leave. Although, for most employers, it is highly improbable that they should want to dismiss or subject detriment to an employee under such circumstances in the first place.
Facilitating employees who have lost a child or pregnancy with time to grieve and gather themselves a little will, of course, be very welcome. However, losing a child is an extremely traumatic and stressful experience – one that seems impossible to comprehend, let alone have to actually go through. For that reason, employers should also consider the mental wellbeing of their staff.
Studies suggest that 12.7% of all sickness absence days taken in the UK are attributed to mental health, costing employers a staggering £35 billion last year alone. That figure has risen by almost £10 billion in the last decade. With mental health being considered the priority health challenge for employers, companies should really consider the effect that losing a child will inevitably have on their staff and act accordingly.
One way of handling the mental health impact that parental bereavement will pose to staff would be for employers to tie their Parental Bereavement Leave policy in with their Mental Health policy in some way. For example, by considering whether employees should be offered the option of therapy to help them to cope with the unprecedented feeling of loss and work on ways to come to terms with such a life-changing event.
Supporting your Workforce
Many employers are already very compassionate and supportive of their staff when it comes to home life emergencies or bereavements; however, the implementation of the Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Act will take a lot of additional pressure off of many bereaved parents. By showing employees that they care, employers will gain a lot of respect and gratitude.
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