April will see the introduction of Jack's Law, giving parents a right to take 2 weeks' leave following the devastating loss of a child, says Alex Christen.
Currently, there is no automatic right to paid time off in such circumstances—although many employers do offer it. Instead, as a minimum, employees are entitled to take time off to deal with unexpected issues and emergencies relating to their ‘dependants’ but the exact parameters of this right are unclear and can range broadly from employer to employer.
For example, there is no legal requirement for such leave to be paid, the employer need only offer a ‘reasonable’ period off (which is open to interpretation) and employees can choose to use annual leave or take sick leave instead (which could affect their future attendance records).
In 2010, Jack’s parents suffered the tragic loss of their son and have since campaigned for a change to the law, requiring employers to give bereaved parents a minimum period of time off work to grieve and start making the necessary arrangements.
This new right will allow employed parents to take up to two weeks’ leave, which can be taken in one go or as two separate weeks, at any point within the first year following the loss. The right will also extend to still births from 24 weeks of pregnancy and is available to parents regardless of how long they have been employed.
Additionally, parents who have been employed for at least 26 weeks can claim a minimum rate of pay, similar to statutory parental pay, during their bereavement leave. Employees taking bereavement leave will also be protected from being dismissed, made redundant or suffering a detriment as a result of the leave.
Critics say the entitlement should go further and that a similar allowance should be payable to self-employed parents. Grief is a personal issue and it is impossible for an employer to say how much leave an employee will need, but many welcome the introduction of this minimum standard as it will at least offer some clarity for employees and employers facing such sad and difficult circumstances. Some employers do and will offer a more generous entitlement, but whatever is put in place, employers should review, and if necessary, update their policies and procedures in time for 6 April.
If you would like us to review your absence policies, or you would like any more information on this area, please do get in touch.