Campaign for paid compassionate leave for bereaved parents



Will employees gain an entitlement to take two weeks off?

A private member’s bill, entitling all employees to two weeks’ paid leave if they lose a child under 18, has been introduced in parliament. A second reading of the bill is due on 28 October.

Unlike Europe, UK employees do not currently have a statutory right to time off for bereavement, although employees are entitled to ‘reasonable’ unpaid time off for an emergency involving a dependant, and that would include that person’s death. ‘Dependants’ include spouses, civil partners, children or parents, or someone who lives in the same household as a family member. However, this is not a right to compassionate leave. The right to take time off is only for the purpose of taking necessary action, such as making funeral arrangements or applying for probate, rather than taking time to grieve. There is uncertainty as to what amounts to a ‘reasonable’ time off and the right is only for unpaid, not paid, leave.

Campaigners for reform have emphasised the obvious advantages to employees of having a right to paid time off if their child dies. Along with the practical tasks involved in dealing with bereavement, the emotional impact is immense and long lasting. The mental health benefits for employees of allowing a protected period of paid bereavement could be beneficial to employers in the long-term.

Previous attempts to introduce similar provisions in 2013 and 2014 have been unsuccessful. During the parliamentary debate on the Children and Families Act 2014, the government stated that it was not feasible to legislate in this area due to the number of different family relationships such legislation would need to cover. However, research quoted by the bill’s promoter, Conservative MP Will Quince, during its first reading last month suggested that the number of employees likely to be affected was small (up to 5,000 children die each year on average) and the cost to business could be as little as £2 million a year. He said research from the National Bereavement Alliance and the National Council for Palliative Care showed that 81 per cent of people agreed there should be a legal right to paid bereavement leave.

Most organisations will want to support their employees through such a difficult time and will not want to create any further stress. However, they may also be concerned about the prospect of further regulations being imposed on them, especially small businesses, as they are likely to feel the financial consequences most keenly. But without government backing, the current bill is unlikely to become law (only six private members’ bills were passed in the 2014-2015 parliamentary session), although its proposals do provide employers with an opportunity to review their own policies on dealing with bereaved employees.

Employers should be alert to the fact that the right of employees not to be discriminated against because of religion or belief may be relevant where they request time off for religious observances on death. Organisations should also remember that mothers who lose a child after 24 weeks of pregnancy, or during maternity leave, will not lose their entitlement to maternity leave and pay. Rights to paternity and shared parental leave (where notice of leave has been given) will generally also be maintained in these circumstances.

Acas has produced some practical guidance on managing bereavement in the workplace which suggests it is good practice for employers to have a clear written policy relating to bereavement leave. The guidance also includes helpful suggestions on dealing with the notification of the death and managing the employee’s absence and return to work.

Advance planning by employers will ensure that managers are prepared to deal with what can be a difficult issue to negotiate. Having a bereavement policy in place can provide certainty and security to an employee at a confusing time and generally foster goodwill and wellbeing.


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