In 2020, legislation was enacted which gave parents a statutory right to bereavement leave of up to two weeks. This is sometimes known as “Jack’s Law,” in memory of Jack Herd, who died aged 23 months. It follows campaigning by his mother Lucy, who did so after discovering there was no automatic right to paid leave following bereavement. In fact, her partner was only entitled to three days paid leave under their company’s rules. He had to use holiday or sick leave if he was to be paid for any additional time off.
It’s good that some paid leave is now available for parents who find themselves grieving the death of a child. But it’s important to remember that this is the statutory minimum for employers to do. Child Bereavement UK makes the point that “the agony of losing a child of any age is unparalleled,” so for a business, there is more to consider than whether or not you have followed the rules for statutory bereavement leave.
One point to remember is that parental bereavement pay is paid at the statutory rate of £156.66. It covers two weeks only. Some companies offer enhanced rates for maternity and paternity pay. You may wish to consider offering leave at a higher pay level, or for a longer period of time.
Returning to work
When a grieving parent returns to work, they are likely to find it difficult. As well as expressing your condolences, it is also helpful to let your employee know that you are prepared to talk. They will be reassured to know that you support them. Thinking about how to speak to them helpfully will be hugely beneficial. Helping the person to feel heard, and acknowledging their loss and the pain they are feeling, is much better than saying nothing due to a fear of saying the wrong thing.
The website of The Compassionate Friends provides a useful guide which gives some reminders on what may be helpful to say, and what you may want to avoid saying.
It may also be helpful to establish whether or not the bereaved person would like you to tell their colleagues. And whether they are ok for their colleagues to contact them yet. If you have an employee assistance programme (EAP), you should ensure your employee has the details. They should know how to contact them, particularly from home where they may not have access to the information that they normally would have. Some EAP services offer counselling or other mental health support, which the employee may benefit from.
Supporting your employee
When an employee returns to work after bereavement leave, talk to them to understand what can be done to support them. Try to make the transition back to work as manageable as possible.
For instance, it may be useful to arrange for them to be able to access a quiet room somewhere in the workplace, so that if they need to take a moment away from the hustle and bustle of the open plan office or shop floor, then they can do so. It may also be appropriate to agree a code word or expression between the employee and their line manager, such as “’I’ll be back in five.” This will help if they need to step away. They can then do so without giving a detailed explanation of why they are upset.
In addition to these things, also consider if additional flexibility is needed. Either for practical matters that could not be taken care of within the leave period. Or because the employee is looking after other family members, such as siblings of the deceased child, who are also grieving. There may be dates in the future where the employee wants to request leave. Try to be aware of difficult dates for them, and acknowledge these if you receive leave requests for that time period.
The legal framework for eligibility to statutory parental leave is shown below, which is an employer’s minimum responsibility:
- Parents and individuals with responsibility for a deceased child under the age of 18, or parents who suffer a stillbirth after 24 weeks, are eligible;
- Parental bereavement leave operates in one- or two-week blocks;
- Bereaved parents may take the leave within 56 weeks of the death of their child. They do not have to give notice within the first 56 days (they should give one week’s notice thereafter);
- Parental bereavement leave is a “day one” employment right. But statutory parental bereavement leave pay (SPBP), currently the lower of £156.66 or 90% of weekly earnings, is subject to conditions;
- Employees have to provide certain information, such as the date of the child’s death. However, a copy of the death certificate is not required.
If you have been affected by the loss of a child, charities such as Tommy’s, Child Bereavement UK and The Samaritans can offer support and help.
Our Guest Blogger:
Huge thanks to our friends at View HR – and to Director Gemma who wrote this brilliant blog.
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