Employers should be updating their policies and procedures to take account of the introduction of parental bereavement leave in April. What do HR professionals have to consider when writing their parental bereavement leave policy, how should it be structured and what can it contain?
Parental bereavement leave is a new entitlement for bereaved parents to be absent from work, normally with pay at a statutory minimum rate, for up to two weeks. The new statutory right is available to the parents of a child who dies on or after 6 April 2020.
Now that the government has published the regulations that will introduce the new right, we set out six steps for HR professionals to follow when drafting their parental bereavement leave policy.
1. Reiterate your commitment to supporting bereaved staff
Employers could introduce their parental bereavement leave policy by highlighting:
- their commitment to supporting employees through their grief by ensuring that bereaved parents can take parental bereavement leave; and
- any particular steps that they can take that can help staff during times of bereavement, for example via an employee assistance programme or a flexible return to work.
The policy should make clear that the new rules apply to employees who have suffered the loss of a child (ie under the age of 18) on or after 6 April 2020.
2. Set out who is entitled to parental bereavement leave
Employers can use this section to stress that parental bereavement leave is a day-one right, meaning that bereaved parents can take leave whatever their length of service.
It is also important for employers to explain clearly who is entitled to parental bereavement leave. Who counts as a parent here is very wide: entitlement includes not only birth parents, but also the partner of the child’s parent and adoptive parents.
In addition, it is available to parents who suffer a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
In practice, this means that most employees with parental responsibility for a child who passes away on or after 6 April 2020 can take parental bereavement leave.
3. Explain what leave a bereaved parent can take
The policy should explain that a bereaved parent can take one or two weeks’ parental bereavement leave.
It should be made clear that parental bereavement leave is not available as individual days and can be taken as:
- a single block of two weeks; or
- two separate blocks of one week at different times.
It is important that a bereaved parent is made aware that they can take the leave within 56 weeks of the date of the death of their child.
4. Take a sensitive approach to notice requirements
When setting out notice requirements to take parental bereavement leave, employers need to bear in mind that the legislation does not require employees to provide notice in writing.
A parental bereavement leave policy should allow informal notification, such as a phone call, to be sufficient to take parental bereavement leave.
Within the first 56 days of a child’s death, a bereaved parent can take the leave straightaway.
In practice, this means that the parent can begin the leave by letting their line manager or the HR department know before they would have been due to start work or, if that is not feasible, as soon as is reasonably practicable.
If it is more than 56 days after the child’s death, the policy can require the employee to give the employer one week’s notice of their intention to take the leave.
5. Clarify what a bereaved parent will be paid during leave
Employers that are paying staff on parental bereavement leave at the statutory minimum rate need to clarify the complex eligibility criteria for statutory parental bereavement pay.
The key eligibility criteria are that the employee must have:
- at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment by the week before the week in which their child passes away; and
- normal weekly earnings in the eight weeks up to the week before the child’s death of no less than the lower earnings limit for national insurance contribution purposes.
The bereaved parent must give the employer:
- notice of the weeks during which they wish to claim statutory parental bereavement pay; and
- evidence of entitlement to statutory parental bereavement pay, which requires the employee to provide some basic information and a declaration that they have a qualifying relationship with the child.
Some employers offer enhanced parental bereavement pay, which recognises the need to provide bereaved parents with support and reduces the complexity of the parental bereavement leave process.
6. Reassure bereaved employees of their rights during leave
It is vital that the policy reassures bereaved parents that, during parental bereavement leave, all their terms and conditions of employment, except normal pay, continue.
The employee’s wages will be replaced by statutory parental bereavement pay, if they are eligible for it. However, some employers will have a policy of continuing to pay employees their normal pay during parental bereavement leave.
The policy could also say that employees who have been on parental bereavement leave normally have the right to resume working in the same job when they return.