Under the law as it stands, employers are not required to give paid leave to grieving parents. Section 57A(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 gives employees the right to take a reasonable amount of time off to take action which is necessary for dependants – for example, if they are ill or injured – and Section 57A(1)(c) of the Act specifically refers to action which is necessary ‘in consequence of the death of a dependant’.
In a 2004 case (Forster v Cartwright Black Solicitors), the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that Section 57A(1)(c) does not cover sickness absence due to grief. The relevant wording of the Act refers to the numerous arrangements that have to be made when someone dies, such as registering the death, making funeral arrangements, applying for a grant of probate etc. It does not extend to compassionate leave as a result of bereavement.
To rectify this situation, a Private Members’ Bill was introduced into Parliament by Kevin Hollinrake MP in July 2017. The Bill was supported by the Government and has now received the Royal Assenrt. The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 is scheduled to come into force in 2020.
The new legislation will give employees who lose a child under 18 the right to two weeks’ Bereavement Leave in order to give them time to grieve. Employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service will also be entitled to Bereavement Pay.