One to Watch: Bereavement Leave

18 Jan

Those who keep track of Employment Law news will have noticed bereavement leave making an appearance at the end of last year due to the Parental Bereavement Leave (Statutory Entitlement) Bill 2013-14 being introduced to Parliament on 4 September 2013 under the new Ten Minute Rule.

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Bereavement Support

 

Those who keep track of Employment Law news will have noticed bereavement leave making an appearance at the end of last year due to the Parental Bereavement Leave (Statutory Entitlement) Bill 2013-14 being introduced to Parliament on 4 September 2013 under the new Ten Minute Rule. 


By way of refresher, at present Section 57A Employment Rights Act 1996 provides employees with the statutory right to a "reasonable amount of time off” during their working hours “to take action which is necessary”:-


    To provide assistance where a dependant falls ill, gives birth or is injured or assaulted;
    To make arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured;
    In consequence of the death of a dependant;
    Due to unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for a dependant’s care;
    To deal with an unexpected incident involving an employee’s child which occurs in a period   during which an educational establishment the child attends is responsible;


A dependant ordinarily includes a spouse or civil partner, a child, a parent, or person who lives in the same household as the employee (save for their employee, tenant, lodger or boarder) although can extend further in certain circumstances [Section 57A(3) and (4)].  Such leave is subject to the employee informing their employer as to why they are absent “as soon as reasonably practicable” and how long they expect to be (unless they cannot inform their employer as to the reason until their return i.e. in the event of an emergency).
The difficulty at present is that what constitutes a “reasonable” amount of time off depends upon the circumstances.  Often employers have a policy covering compassionate leave so that it is clear to an employee how much time they can expect.  This arguably adds an element of clarity compared to those employers who make the decision on an ad hoc basis; subject to any custom and practice.  However in any event time off will depend upon what “reasonable” is taken to mean.   A further issue at present is that any leave taken is unpaid, unless a particular employer has a policy which allows for paid leave or they exercise their discretion. 


One particular circumstance in which it is felt, it seems by many, that statutory paid leave would be appropriate is where a parent suffers the loss of their child.  This is the focus of the Parental Bereavement Leave (Statutory Entitlement) Bill.  In short, there were almost 23,000 signatures to the e-petition calling for statutory bereavement leave.  In introducing the Bill to Parliament Mr Tom Harris, Sponsor, noted that the intention was not to place “unaffordable costs or unwanted regulation on employers” and that “most employers already choose to recognise their responsibilities to their workers”.   However it was also noted that “grieving parents should never be forced to choose between meeting their responsibilities to their families and putting food on the table” and that parents “must be allowed to grieve with dignity”.


The Bill has already had a first reading and is due it’s second on 28 February 2014.  As a Private Member’s Bill it has not yet been printed (at the time of this post) as they often are not until the second reading debate draws nearer. It is early days but certainly one to watch for employees, employers and employment law professionals alike.


Leanne Buckley-Thomson

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