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    Bereavement Leave

On 6 April 2020 the Government introduced parental bereavement leave entitling employees who have suffered a still birth after 24 weeks or the death of a child up to the age of 18 to take leave in order to grieve and start the recovery process. The leave is not available to workers or the self-employed.

Until recently, there has been no legal obligation for employers to provide paid time off for grieving parents although employers have always been able to provide discretionary compassionate leave and 97.9% of employers do offer such time off and pay employees during this time, although it is usually only 2-5 days.

Others like grandparents may be eligible if they can prove that they have been looking after the child in place of the child’s parents and will have provided day to day care for the child in their own home for a continuous period of at least four weeks ending with the child’s death (but not if they were paid for it – except in the case of foster parents who are eligible).

Parental bereavement leave is also available to adoptive parents, as long as the adoption placement has not been disrupted.

Employees already had the legal right to take ‘reasonable’ time off to deal with an emergency – such as the death of a child – this entitlement is only to unpaid leave and does not necessarily allow for a longer time off to grieve. This changed when the new Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Regulations came into force on 6 April 2020.

Who is entitled to paid parental bereavement leave?

  • Employed parents and adults with parental responsibility who have suffered the death of a child under the age of 18
  • Adults with ‘parental responsibility’ include adopters, foster parents and guardians. It also applies to those who may be close relatives or family friends that have assumed responsibility for looking after a child in the absence of parents for at least 4 weeks ending on the child’s death and without pay.
  • The entitlement also applies to parents who suffer a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. In this instance, female employees will still be entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave and/or pay, as will a mother who loses a child after it is born
  • Parents and primary carers must have been employed for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks before the child’s death to be eligible for paid parental bereavement leave. All employees have a ‘day one’ right to unpaid bereavement leave.

What are employees entitled to?

  • Parents and primary carers who have been employed for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks prior to when the child dies, and have received pay above the lower earning limit for the previous eight weeks, are entitled to at least two weeks’ statutory paid leave or 90% of average weekly earnings, where this is lower).
  • Workers who have not been employed for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks are entitled to two weeks’ unpaid leave.
  • The two weeks’ leave can be taken either in one block of two weeks, or as two separate blocks of one week each. It must be taken within 56 weeks of the date of the child’s death. This is to allow for time to be taken off for difficult events such as birthdays or anniversaries.
  • Notice requirements for taking the leave will be flexible, so it can be taken at short notice.
  • The pay rate for bereavement leave is the same as the statutory rate for maternity/paternity/adoption leave.
  • If an employee loses more than one child, they will be entitled to take a separate period of leave for each child.

What notice does an employee have to give?

During the first seven weeks, an employee need only inform their employer before they start work on their first day of absence, or if this isn’t possible as soon as possible. From weeks 8 to 56, an employee must give at least a week’s notice. The leave can be cancelled or rearranged with the same degree of notice.

To also claim parental bereavement pay, an employee will need to notify their employer that they meet the qualifying conditions for Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay within 28 days of the leave starting or, if this isn’t possible, as soon as possible.

Notice to claim parental leave and pay will need to include the following information:

  • the name of the person claiming;
  • the date of the child’s death (or date of birth for a stillborn child); and
  • the date(s) that you want the period or periods of parental leave (and pay if applicable) to start and finish

Managing bereavement in the workplace is challenging for any employer, treating employees with sensitivity, kindness and compassion at such a traumatic time will be beneficial to everyone in the workplace. Not only will staff feel supported and valued, but the loyalty and engagement this will engender will benefit the organisation as a whole and foster wellbeing and morale.

If you would like help applying for bereavement leave or are an employer seeking to draw up a bereavement policy that works for your organisation please get in touch. We are here to help.