Parental Bereavement Leave (PBL) came into effect in Great Britain in April 2020. Since this important right has now been in place for two years it’s worth looking at what those parental rights are and what’s involved for employers and employees.
In addition, from 6th April 2022, parents in Northern Ireland will also be given the rights already in place in England, Wales and Scotland since April 2020: being the right to take time off following the death or stillbirth of their, or their partner’s, child.
Before the introduction of this right into UK law, whether or not employees could take time away from work to grieve was a discretionary matter for businesses and even those employers who did choose to allow this leave, were not bound to pay for it, putting working parents who had suffered a loss of their child in an unenviably difficult position.
A public opinion consultation was opened by the Government in 2018 to seek opinion on several aspects of PBL. Following this consultation, the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 was created and in Jan 2020, the right to take parental bereavement leave from 6th April 2020 was confirmed.
Eligible employees are entitled to up to two weeks off at any point from the death (or stillbirth) and for up to 56 weeks after. This leave can be taken as either a single week of leave, a single block of two weeks’ leave, or, as two separate blocks of a week. This flexibility is designed to help as broad a range as possible of employees, in recognition that the grieving process is highly individual and unique for all those going through it.
A ‘bereaved parent’ can take statutory bereavement leave from the first day of employment. This includes parents whose child (under the age of 18) dies and parents whose baby is stillborn (after 24 weeks).
This is defined widely, based on the employee’s caring responsibilities for the child – a ‘primary carer’ of a child, where their relationship is ‘parental’ in nature can take this leave.
Parents include the child’s biological, adoptive (once the adoption order has been granted or the child has been placed) or, where a child was born to a surrogate, parents, and their parents’ partner.
Eligibility matters in relation to surrogacy can be more complicated as there are various participants in a surrogacy situation and in the case of bereavement, there are a wider range of individuals who could potentially qualify for PBL – including the parents who were to raise the baby and, in some cases, the natural parent of the baby.
Others who can also qualify for PBL are those with day-to-day responsibility for the child, where the child lives with the employee, and even where payment was made for care of the child, such as in a fostering situation.
Employees with 26 weeks’ service or more are entitled to statutory parental bereavement pay, paid at the same rate as other family friendly leave, such as SMP or SSP, i.e. the statutory rate or 90% of earnings, whichever is lower. Employees must also earn over the lower earnings limit.
Offering Additional Leave
The Act and above details set out the basic rights of employees however, employers are at liberty to allow more leave should they be inclined to – bearing in mind the requirement to take a consistent approach across all employees. Even when only complying with the statutory minimums, employers can offer grieving parents some small comfort at a very difficult time.
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