Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill
A new bill was introduced to Parliament on 19th July 2017 with the aim of ensuring that there is support for bereaved parents in their workplace. The bill was designed to ensure that statutory paid leave to grieve would take the place of current informal arrangements, usually agreed between individual employers and their employees.
Although employers are usually flexible about bereavement leave and compassionate in their understanding that bereavement is an enormously stressful time, the government has unfortunately identified that not all employers respond as expected. The death of a child has a devastating effect on parents, and sufficient time to grieve away from the workplace is considered essential. Responsible employers will pay as much attention to employee welfare, regarding promoting good psychological and mental health, as they do to good practice in the workplace related to physical hazards.
Current arrangements for bereavement leave
At present, under the Employment Rights Act, when there is an emergency that involves a dependant, employees have the legal right to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid time off work. That includes time to make appropriate arrangements following the death of a dependant. The problem is that there is no fixed amount of time that is considered ‘reasonable’ – this depends on the individual circumstances.
If an employer and their employee are unable to agree how much time is ‘reasonable’, the issue can be resolved via ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) or an employment tribunal. It has to be said that taking such a step is highly unlikely. Guidance for employers on good practice when managing bereavement leave has been published by ACAS.
The Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill
During the summer months of 2017, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will be consulting with a range of interested parties, including
- Employee representatives
- Campaigners on behalf of working families.
The aim is to reach a clearer understanding of the needs of bereaved parents and employers in advance of the Bill’s expected second reading in the autumn. You can keep up to speed with all new and emerging workplace legislation by downloading the free digital magazine Legislation Watch every quarter.
Good practice in managing bereavement in the workplace
ACAS advises employers to develop a clear bereavement policy in preparation for managing bereavement in the workplace, preferably in consultation with trade union or staff representatives. Training should be organised for managers, Human Resources teams and any relevant staff members. The aim of this is to ensure members of staff dealing with bereavement are enabled to have effective and compassionate responses and conversations with bereaved employees.
Remember that a conversation about when a bereaved employee anticipates returning to work may not be appropriate during the first few days of bereavement. However, it is important that employers start a dialogue that will eventually lead to an open discussion around how the employee is coping. Then, when appropriate, you can ask when your employee might be ready to return to work and whether there are any adjustments that might help with this, such as a phased return.