Does your business offer bereavement leave?

news article

Sep 14 2018

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It is understandably sensitive and difficult subject, but a new survey has recently shown that most employees expect their employer’s to offer paid bereavement leave as part of a minimum benefit profile.

Luckily, this expectation also appears to be backed up by reality: of 634 organisations polled within the same survey, nearly all (97.9%), indicated that they grant some or all of their current bereavement leave entitlement on a paid basis.

This is a great indicator that many UK businesses already make great strides to support their staff during turbulent and incredibly difficult times, but with the recent announcement of significant changes being made to statutory bereavement leave, it has never been more topical.

What is bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave refers to the period of time that an employee can take away from their workplace when they experience the death of a child, dependent or close family member. How long you can take, and what level (if any) your leave will be paid at, is entirely dependent on your company’s personal provision circumstances.

Why has it been in the news?

Bereavement leave has been in the news recently as a new ‘Parental Leave and Pay Bill’ has recently achieved Royal Assent, and will form part of UK law. Expected to come into force in 2020, the new law will provide parents with the automatic right to two weeks’ leave if they experience the death of a child aged 18 or under, or suffer a stillbirth from the point of 24 weeks of pregnancy. They will also be legally entitled to claim for paid leave for this period, subject to them meeting any eligibility criteria.

What current statutory provision is there?

There is currently limited statutory provision for bereavement leave in the UK, and it is usually made of of either ‘time off for dependents,’ or ‘compassionate leave.’ Which one of these is applicable depends entirely on your company’s protocol for the death of family members. Both of these types of leave can be paid, unpaid, or taken as a mixture or both, but how long for, and at what level of pay, is again an individual decision for your business.

Currently, under the Employment Rights Act, employee’s have a right from their first day with a company to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependent, including making funeral arrangements.

Who will be entitled to it?

Currently this is unknown, but when the original bill was first published in parliament in 2017, it stipulated that employees with at least 26 weeks continual service with the same company would be eligible for a statutory rate of parental bereavement pay. Employers would then be able to claim a percentage of this back from the government.

It is unclear as to whether the 26 weeks minimum service applies to the leave as whole, or just to the statutory payment amount.

What do most employers currently offer?

As discussed above, most employers already seem to understand the difficulties that bereaved parents can face, as they already offer paid and unpaid leave. Of the professionals surveyed above, over 60 percent stated that they provided a combination of paid and unpaid bereavement leave, whilst a third offer paid leave for the entire duration of time taken.

The level of pay and the amount of time offered did seem to depend on the closeness and level of relationship between the employee and the deceased, with 61.2 percent saying that they would take these factors into consideration.

Will this be a popular change?

This is undoubtedly a hugely popular move by the government, and should primarily help to remove any uncertainty or ambiguity that businesses and employees alike may experience around the subject of bereavement.

The change in law follows a campaign by various groups, including Jack’s Rainbow. This is a foundation that was set up by a mother whose son drowned in an accident in 2010 – she only received three days’ of leave from her company.

Whilst we have established that most businesses offer some entitlement to bereavement leave, it should be noted that many will need to review their provision in light of the new legislation. This is because only a minority of employers currently go beyond the proposed statutory minimum entitlement that will make up the paid bereavement leave law.

A survey found that of 525 business respondents, only 13 percent offered more than 10 days of paid bereavement leave in the event of a death of a child. This ultimately means that nearly nine-tenths (87 percent) of employers will need to review and change their current policies in two years time.


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