In The News: Bereavement Leave

For Employers, Human Resources

Written by Alicia Collinson & Jodie Hill

As has been heavily publicised today all over the media, the government is introducing measures in April this year to allow parents who lose a child to two weeks’ statutory bereavement leave.

Here at Thrive we wanted to clarify: what exactly does that mean? And is it enough?

Who is eligible and what are they entitled to?

From April this year, Jack’s Law will be introduced. This will allow parents who lose a child under the age of 18 (or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy) to take leave in the first year after the death as either a single block of two weeks, or two separate weeks.

Some of the reports have been misleading, with it being implied that the leave is “paid leave”. In fact, this is not the case:

  • The bereavement leave is not paid if the parent has not got 26 weeks’ continuous service with their employer.
  • The leave is not paid if the parent does not earn above the lower earnings limit (£118 per week for 2019 to 2020)
  • For employees who meet both the above criteria, the leave is only £148.68 per week (for 2019 to 2020), or 90% of average weekly earnings where this is lower.

Is it enough?

In the opinion of us here at Thrive: not really. Although it’s always good for rights to be increased (as currently there is no automatic right to statutory bereavement leave) and it’s a step in the right direction, there are still a few concerns which we have.

Quite contrary to reports, the right is quite strongly caveated. The minimum earning requirements are less likely to be met by parents (more commonly mothers) who work lesser hours to work around their children’s school hours. Those parents are, in turn, less likely to therefore qualify for the statutory payment.

Furthermore, the right for paid leave (even as limited pay) should be a day one right; whether a parent has lost their child on the first day of their job or after 15 years’ service, they should be equally entitled to mourn that child with the support of their employer.

Also, the statutory payment is only a slight increase on entitlement for statutory sick pay, and it doesn’t necessarily solve the issue which the campaign was trying to solve:

“More and more people told me they had experienced the same thing. Employers were saying ‘take as much time as you need’, and they were taking six months off, and it was down on their record as being off sick. They’d come back to a P45 on their desk.”

Here at Thrive, we struggle to see how two weeks’ leave would solve this issue. Grieving parents would, quite understandably, be likely to suffer mental health issues as a result of their loss and then have to take sick leave. Aside from the fact that those mental health issues may amount to a disability (and therefore any resulting dismissal could be discriminatory), the two weeks’ leave is insufficient to provide grieving employees with sufficient time to seek and gain support. For a start, waiting lists can be up to six months for therapy with the NHS.

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said the measures were “a minimum, and something to build on”. Here at Thrive, we sincerely hope that that is the case, and that a more generous statutory scheme will be introduced, and extended to employees grieving all relatives, and not just children.

Practical Tips for employers

As an employer, what can you do in the light of the news?

  • If you have an existing staff handbook, you’ll need to amend it to recognise the rights of parents. However, you might want to consider whether to enhance these rights, by introducing more paid leave or
  • Once your handbook is updated, you might want to send a short email to your employees, explaining the change.
  • Always consider the mental health of employees, especially grieving parents. Bear in mind that, in certain circumstances, their resulting conditions (for example, PTSD, anxiety, depression) might amount to a disability. If an employee is disabled they are entitled to reasonable adjustments and not to be subject to a detriment as a result of that disability.
  • Be proactive! Generally, regardless of whether mental ill health is related to bereavement or not, employers should be as supportive as possible of their employees. Poor mental health in the workplace cost UK employers more than £43bn in 2018
  • Monitor your employees’ mental health. Even a long time after a bereavement, the effects can stay with those effected. Our Campaign is looking to make mental health risk assessments a requirement; that would allow an employer to maintain and monitor an employees’ wellbeing and ensure that they are getting the support they need.

If you have any further questions about this article, please do not hesitate to get in touch!

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