The death of a child can have devastating effects on mental and physical wellbeing, yet there is currently no legal requirement in the UK for employers to provide paid leave for grieving parents. It must, therefore, come as no surprise that campaigners have petitioned so forcefully to change the law on this issue.
The introduction of the new Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018, due to come into force in 2020, will give all employed parents a day one right to two weeks’ leave if they lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy. Employed parents will also be able to claim pay for this period, subject to meeting eligibility criteria.
As a result of these changes, employers may need to review and update their bereavement leave arrangements. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when trying to manage the needs of a bereaved employee. However, implementing a clear, written bereavement policy will ensure a consistent approach and provide employees with certainty and security as to their rights in such challenging circumstances.
The policy should be easy to follow, widely accessible, and a copy should be provided to all employees.
In conjunction with an effective bereavement policy, employers should adopt a holistic approach when considering what support systems they can implement to help bereaved employees.
It is common for grieving parents to suffer both physically and emotionally. Employers should be alert to any change in absence, performance or behaviour and deal with such issues carefully and sensitively. Managers and HR personnel should be provided with relevant training to understand the importance of using discretion and sensitivity when dealing with bereaved employees.
The effects of grief do not always manifest immediately, so it is important that employees are provided with ongoing support; this may include access to an employee assistance programme (EAP) or the provision of counselling services.
Simon DeMaid is an employment law partner at Howes Percival