In the UK, compassionate leave for employees in the event of bereavement has until now been dealt with by way of employment policies. There have been no specific legal rights on bereavement, whether in relation to the death of a family member or anyone else close to the employee. Any rights which they have to leave and/or pay in these circumstances are dependent on what is agreed with their employer, either by way of contractual rights or rights set out in a workplace policy.
However, following a period of consultation, the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018, which for the first time introduces rights for bereaved parents, became law on 13 September 2018. However, the Act’s provisions will not become effective until regulations under the Act (the Regulations) are finalised. This is expected at some time during 2020.
Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 (the Act)
The Act sets out the key elements of the new rights, with some of the finer details to be set out in the Regulations.
Statutory right to parental bereavement leave
The Act first creates a statutory right to parental bereavement leave. This entitles an employee who is a “bereaved parent” to be absent from work for a period of at least two weeks.
An employee will be a “bereaved parent” if they satisfy the conditions to be specified in the Regulations as to their relationship with a child under the age of 18 who has died. (This includes a child who is stillborn after 24 weeks’ of pregnancy). Those conditions may relate to the employee’s care of the child before their death. Whilst not specified, it is likely therefore that the employee will not necessarily have to be either the biological or adoptive parent of the child.
The Act specifies that the leave must be taken before the end of a period of at least 56 days after the child’s death but exactly when the leave may be taken will be set out in the Regulations.
If an employee is eligible for leave as a result of the death of more than one child, then they will be entitled to leave in respect of each child.
The terms and conditions of employment will continue during the leave to the extent set out in the Regulations, but these will not include the right to remuneration.
Statutory right to parental bereavement pay
The Act goes on to create a statutory right to parental bereavement pay to be paid during the weeks of parental bereavement leave, which do not necessarily have to be consecutive weeks.
This is subject to a minimum qualifying period of employment of 26 weeks.
Statutory parental bereavement pay will be payable at a fixed rate to be specified in the Regulations. If an employer pays an employee enhanced contractual bereavement pay, then the statutory fixed rate payable can be offset against this.
These new rights relate to leave and pay in the event of parental bereavement on the death of a child only. They do not apply in the event of the death of an adult son or daughter, or of another close relative or friend. For now, any such rights will continue to be dealt with in accordance with the terms of the employee’s contract and/or workplace policy.