The Government has announced in the last few days that it has laid before Parliament the draft legislation for the Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Regulations 2020.
Due to come into force on 6 April 2020, the Regulations which are being referred to as “Jack’s Law”, will give bereaved parents the legal right to take time off following the death of a child.
Always an emotive topic, there is currently no specific legal right to take time off if your child passes away. Whilst employment law contains a plethora of different types of unpaid leave which could be used to help in such circumstances, such as time off for dependants, parental leave, discretionary bereavement leave or general unpaid leave, UK employment law like many countries around the world did not give employees any specific rights to time off when a child dies. Unfortunately, many parents who have found themselves in this sad situation have had to take extensive sickness absence to grieve, make arrangements and process what has happened. Following nearly ten years of campaigning by Jack Herd’s mother, hence the name of the new law, the Government has taken these concerns on board and is introducing a new period of statutory paid leave for bereaved parents. Whilst two weeks is obviously not long enough to cover all the time a parent may wish or need to take during such difficult times, this new law is certainly a step in the right direction.
The terms of the leave and the requirements for taking it mirror quite closely the other statutory parental rights, such as maternity and paternity leave. From 6 April 2020, all employees who lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, will be entitled to 2 weeks’ statutory leave to be taken in one block or as two separate blocks of a week.
The leave must be taken within 56 weeks of the bereavement, a period of just over one calendar year. This time period is in response to comments received during the public consultation that the anniversary of the child’s death was a particularly difficult time for bereaved parents and it would be helpful to have the opportunity to take some, or all, of the leave around this time.
In addition, those employees with at least 26 weeks’ service, who meet minimum earnings criteria, will also qualify for statutory parental bereavement pay (at the same rate as statutory paternity pay).
The right covers not just the biological parents of a child but also those involved in the adoption process, those who have cared for the child in their own home for longer than 4 weeks (with certain conditions attached) and partners of anyone who qualifies under the Regulations.
In circumstances where sadly more than one child has died, the parents can take leave for each child separately.
As with all periods of statutory leave, there are notice requirements to meet as well and although they sound slightly onerous in the Regulations, in practice we anticipate and hope that employers will be sympathetic and make it as easy as possible for affected employees to take the leave if needed.
Whilst we don’t expect the Regulations to substantially change, we will review the terms in more detail once they have been ratified by Parliament. Given the April 2020 deadline for this law to come into force, this shouldn’t be far away. In the meantime, if you would like to speak to someone about parental bereavement leave please contact Charlotte Farrell, Associate Solicitor in our Employment team.