Published 12th November 2020
The Guardian published an article about a potential introduction of statutory bereavement leave.
At the start of this blog, it’s worth making it clear that I am entirely in support of any Statutory Bereavement Leave [“SBL”]. Whilst I know that there would be legal definitions and entitlements to figure out, I strongly believe that anything which makes the immediate time following the loss of a loved one easier and less stressful has to be beneficial to us all.
Why is leave important?
The fact is that unpaid compassionate leave which is maybe two days long is not enough time to deal with the “admin” of death, never mind actually processing the losses.
Having suffered from PTSD due to my own loss, I know from my own experience of the long-term impacts of not being able to take any time off to stop and process. In my case, I still had three more final law exams to finish, having lost my Dad during the first one.
My own inability to process my losses meant that I became very unwell, both mentally but later physically; I ended up hospitalised at one point, over eight months later. Whilst I understand that not everyone would follow exactly the same pattern as me, if we extrapolate what happened to me, then my sick leave and pay would have far outweighed any SBP which I might have received. I’m not saying SBP would have been a definite resolution, but I do think it’s important to give people time.
Furthermore, the grief experienced by employees who have lost a loved one costs the UK economy £23bn a year through reduced productivity, and the Treasury nearly £8bn as a result of reduced tax revenues and increased use of NHS and social care resources. Surely anything we can do to make the immediate impact easier, would be a benefit?
What about the employer’s discretion?
Employer’s discretion means there is a lack of consistency, which causes unnecessary stress. Some employers can be very flexible, whilst others can only offer one day off, unpaid, for a funeral. As part of the campaign for Statutory Parental Bereavement Leave (see below) a mother who had sadly lost her child commented:
“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.”
The last thing employees who have lost a loved one (especially when it’s sudden death) would need is to check their handbook, figure out what leave they have and whether they have to use it for a funeral, and then have to spend time trying to get a sick note so they can go on sick leave.
Should an individual’s future well-being and ability to move forward and cope with their grief be entirely dependent on the empathy of their employer or manager?
What would it look like?
This is a really good question, because how does the Government define which death “warrants” SBP? There are no easy answers here because it’s not possible, nor is it fair, for us (as a society) to assess which loss is more “worthy” than others. For some, the death of a friend might be far more impactful or traumatising than the death of a sibling. Who are we to say if they are entitled to SBP?
I must say, I don’t know the answers here. I think it’s a minefield that would need expert input and consultation, as well as commercial considerations. I think this is always going to be the main barrier to the introduction of SBP.
If we look at the Statutory Parental Bereavement Scheme (which we’ve written about here) we get an idea of what the pay and leave would look like. For parental bereavement (which came into force in April 2020):
- 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.
- The bereavement leave is not paid if the parent has not had 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 £148.68 per week (for 2019 to 2020), or 90% of average weekly earnings where this is lower.
It’s interesting because, at the time, we were very vocal about the inadequacy of the parental bereavement scheme; 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 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.
But, I suppose, something is better than nothing, it is moving in the right direction and the parental bereavement scheme is at least a scheme in principle which we can build on.
Although it’s such a personal experience, I do think having a few weeks away from work, without having to get sick notes or email managers or worry about work at all, could really make quite an impact on the long-term mental illness which can arise from bereavement.
I am more than happy to discuss this with anyone who has thoughts; I’m so passionate about supporting the bereaved in the workplace and the benefits that this would have on employees and employers alike.
Please note this blog is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action. Please contact us if you have any questions on the chat box available on our website.