Parental bereavement leave

The new statutory entitlement to Parental Bereavement Leave has been widely publicised. But what exactly does it entail and how should a small business support a bereaved parent? Eleanor Deem tackles these key questions.

What is parental bereavement leave?

Parental Bereavement Leave is a new entitlement for bereaved parents to be absent from work with pay at a statutory minimum rate for up to two weeks. It is available from April 2020 to employees who are parents and other individuals who have caring responsibility for a child who has died, as well as parents who suffer a stillbirth.

The leave itself is a ‘day one’ right, however, to be entitled to pay, a minimum of 26 weeks’ service is required. The level of pay will be the same as other family leave entitlements such as paternity leave.

It is taken in blocks of one or two weeks together, and can be taken at any point up to 56 weeks after the child has passed away, recognising that grieving is a long process and events and anniversaries can be significant.

What is the current position for bereaved employees?

Most employers, large and small, already have a policy of allowing a few days ‘compassionate leave’ to be used in the event of a bereavement of an immediate family member, but many people don’t realise that this is not a statutory requirement. There is entitlement to brief unpaid leave when dealing with an emergency involving a dependant, but no provision for anyone suffering a bereavement to take paid time off.

Although Parental Bereavement Leave is a new statutory entitlement, the burden on small businesses in real terms should be minimal. Partly because losing a child is, thankfully, not a common scenario, but also because most small business owners would be horrified at the idea of forcing a parent who has just lost a child to come into work as normal. Most would give the employee some paid time off, or at least allow them to use some holiday at short notice.

How should bereaved employees be supported?

As well as enshrining a right – it’s remarkable this has only just come into existence – the new legislation is also useful in terms of having triggered a conversation about supporting employees who have lost a loved one and are struggling. 

Remember that everyone grieves differently, and not according to a prescribed timetable. 

One of the problems with statutory entitlements when it comes to bereavement is that each situation is unique, and how each employee reacts and what they need from their employer may differ. You may, for example, have someone who has lost a child who initially wants to come back to work quite quickly, only to then need time off at a later date. 

In practice, although the new entitlement is two weeks’ leave, many parents would not be ready to go back to work a fortnight after losing a child – recognising that is key to being a supportive employer. It may be that they need a longer amount of time off work and this might need to be sick leave.

The notification and procedural requirements for Parental Bereavement Leave are kept to a minimum for obvious reasons. Employers should judge the context and make allowances if this will minimise stress for the person affected. In other words, when a parent loses a child don’t get hung up on procedural technicalities.

Make sure your bereaved employee knows they don’t have to worry about work, and that anything they may normally be dealing with is covered. See if you can establish what support they would find useful, and whether they would appreciate contact from colleagues. Some may do, while others might find it too painful.

When your employee is ready to come back to work, consider how best to support them. It may be tremendously difficult for them to return, whether they’ve had a few days off or even a few months, so consider what support you can offer them, and make sure they know how to access it. Find out whether some extra flexibility would be helpful, temporarily or on an ongoing basis, and remember that, naturally, their work performance may be affected for a time.

Remember: grieving doesn’t take place in a straight line. Don’t be surprised if additional absence or support is required after a few months or even years.

Author: Eleanor Deem is the founder of face2faceHR and is an experienced HR professional with a background working in the private and not-for-profit sectors.

Explore related resources

These areas of the People Skills Hub will help you address some of the issues covered in this blog:

  • Legal requirements and compliance: learn about the legal requirements of being an employer

  • Handling grievances: Guidance on the best procedures for dealing with any grievances raised by your employees

  • Dismissal: Guidance on the best way to manage a dismissal, with information on avoiding unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and constructive dismissal