The government has published the statutory instruments which implement two weeks’ paid bereavement leave for parents upon the death of a child under the age of 18. The Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill and the Statutory Bereavement Pay(General) Regulations 2020 and will come into force as of the 6th April 2020.
This new legal right, also known as ‘Jack’s Law’ is the result of 10 years campaigning by Lucy Herd, who launched the campaign ten years ago following the tragic passing of Jack Herd, her 23-month-old son as a result of a drowning accident in 2010.
Jack’s father is said to have returned to work just three days after his son’s death – a situation which is all too common amongst bereaved parents throughout the UK.
This is because, in advance of the introduction of the new legislation, there is no automatic right to paid time off for such a bereavement (although parents of stillborn children are entitled to maternity and paternity leave, and this is a right that will be unaffected by the reforms). While many employers already provide discretionary bereavement leave for a range of circumstances, it is far from standard practice and is often informal. Research conducted by XpertHR in 2018 suggested that on average and for the closest relationships only, just five days’ bereavement entitlement was granted.
Whilst we hope that none of us will ever have to rely on the additional leave granted by the reforms, and they will only ultimately impact a small proportion of the UK workforce, everyone can acknowledge their importance. The United Kingdom is the first country in the world to implement such reform and the new legislation heralds a positive change in UK employment law. Government ministers estimate that approximately 10,000 families will benefit from the changes each year.
Under the new law, parents who lose a child under the age of 18, or any child that is still-born after 24 weeks of pregnancy, will be able to take a period of paid leave for up to two weeks. This can be taken either as a single block of two weeks or, as two separate blocks of one week, to be taken at different times for a period of up to 56 weeks following their child’s death.
The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 provides an entitlement to Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay (SPBP) – which means that for the two week leave period, a qualifying parent will be entitled to SPBP at the lower of £151.20 per week or 90% of their salary.
The legislation sets outs eligibility and notice provisions for the leave in broadly the same way that maternity or shared parental leave would be.
For example, there is a service requirement – meaning that in order to be eligible, any parent must have been in continuous employment for at least 26 weeks and must have an average weekly Lower Earnings Limit (LEL) of £118.00 per week.
As well as birth parents, the leave entitlement will be available for adults with parental responsibility, including adopting parents, those who are fostering to adopt, legal guardians and many foster parents.
There are also procedural requirements in respect of the notice that must be provided to the employer and an ‘employee declaration’ must be completed.
ACAS has helpful guidance on how best to manage bereavement at work. Now that leave for bereaved parents is a legal right, this guidance will be updated.