Whilst the Employment Rights Act 1996 affords employees the day-one right to take a 'reasonable' amount of unpaid time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant, which could include making arrangements following the death of a dependant, employees currently have no legal right to paid leave in these circumstances.
What is 'reasonable' in terms of duration is a matter of individual interpretation and often what an employer considers reasonable is far less than would be considered 'reasonable by a grieving employee.
On 13th October 2017 the UK Government published the Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill, which is expected to become law in 2020, this will give grieving employees a day-one right to take up to two weeks leave in the event that they lose a child under the age of eighteen. In addition, where the employee has more than twenty-six weeks continuous service they will also be entitled to statutory parental bereavement leave pay, which employers are likely to be able to recover in a similar way to statutory maternity pay and statutory paternity pay.
Announcing the new bill’s publication, business minister Margot James said: “We want parents to feel properly supported by their employer when they go through the deeply distressing ordeal of losing a child. That’s why Government is backing this bill which goes significantly further than most other countries in providing this kind of workplace right for employees.”
Ben Willmott, head of public policy for the CIPD, said: “Our research shows many employers already offer their staff paid bereavement leave. This new law will build on this so all bereaved parents of children under the age of eighteen will have the reassurance of knowing they don’t have to worry about work while they grieve for loved ones in the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy.
“Employers that want to support staff who have suffered a bereavement also need to consider how grief affects people in the longer term, recognising that losing a loved one creates huge turmoil in people’s lives.
“Providing flexible working and access to counselling or employee assistance programmes, and ensuring managers are understanding and supportive, can help people to adapt or manage their work when they are struggling to cope. This is relevant in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy as well as around difficult times of the year or events that might bring painful reminders of their loss.”