With effect from 6 April 2020, grieving parents may be eligible for parental bereavement leave and pay. The new legislation, which follows the Government’s commitment to support employed parents dealing with the devastating loss of a child, entitles eligible parents who have suffered the loss of a child under 18 or a stillbirth from 24 weeks’ pregnancy, to two weeks’ statutory parental bereavement leave (PBL) and statutory parental bereavement pay (SPBL). To be eligible, an employee must have at least 26 weeks’ service.
The Government has published its Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay and Leave: employer guide https://www.gov.uk/employers-parental-bereavement-pay-leave. This guidance confirms employees’ entitlements to statutory bereavement leave and pay, who is eligible, the notice required to start and cancel leave and pay, dealing with requests for employees who aren’t eligible, and the records employers must keep of payments made.
There are a number of protections afforded to employees who exercise this new right which employers should be aware of, including protection from detriment whilst on or after taking PBL such that their employer cannot treat them less favourably as a consequence of their decision to take PBL. Moreover, with the exception of remuneration, an employee’s terms and conditions will remain unchanged during PBL.
Following the end of PBL, employees have a right to return to the same job. Where PBL is combined with another period of statutory parental leave (such as maternity leave) they have a right to return to the same job or, if that is not reasonably practicable for the employer, to another job which is suitable and appropriate for the employee to do in the circumstances.
Managers and Payroll should be aware of the organisation’s obligations in relation to these new rights. In particular, managers will have to understand who falls within the statutory definition of parent for the purposes of taking PBL so that they don’t refuse requests from eligible employees. Employers should also ensure that managers are aware that employees have the right not to suffer any disadvantage by taking PBL and have the right to claim unfair dismissal if they are dismissed because they have taken or wished to take PBL.
Employers should update their policies and procedures to take account of the introduction of this new right. Some organisations will have compassionate leave policies in place already which may offer bereaved employees a more generous entitlement to paid leave than under the statutory rules. These organisations should ensure that they incorporate the PBL and SPBP entitlements into their policies to avoid them being treated as standalone, additional benefits.
Those organisations that don’t have a formal bereavement policy may wish to review their current practices for bereaved parents and consider introducing a formal policy that encapsulates the new PBL and SPBP rights.