The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 is set to come into force in 2020. This move should help to increase the protection for working parents during a difficult time, granting them the right to a period of paid time off following the death of a child, which had previously been down to their employer’s discretion.

The basic premise of the Act means that working parents will have a day one right to take up to two weeks off work following the death of a child under the age of 18, or a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. There is also the added opportunity to receive pay for this leave, however this will be dependent on the employee having 26 weeks’ service with the employer.

Parents will have up to 56 days following the date of the bereavement to take their leave. This gives individuals the added freedom to use their leave in a way that most benefits them, should they prefer the opportunity to return to work for a period of time first. Employers need to keep in mind that it is extremely unlikely that they will be able to postpone requests for bereavement leave under any circumstances, however we await further clarification on this matter from the government.

Currently, there is also no clear definition of the eligibility criteria required to take this leave, including whether this right will just apply to biological parents or if it will be extended to include foster parents, adoptive parents or legal guardians who care for the child. For their part the government have confirmed that this information, along with clarification on the rate of pay during the leave period, will be included within the Act’s supporting regulations which will be produced at a later date. It is likely, however, that the rate of pay will be the same as that paid during other family-related leave, which is currently £145.18 per week.

Despite the above, employers are reminded that there is currently no legal requirement to offer staff any form of extended bereavement or compassionate leave prior to 2020. Employees have right to take time off for dependants, which gives employees the right to a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid time off from work to deal with an emergency situation. This may be utilised by parents, or those with other care responsibilities, at the time of a bereavement. However, time off for dependants will usually only cover up to two days of absence instead of any extended period of grieving.

As we await further clarification on the practicalities of parental bereavement leave and pay employers should review existing policies in this area and consider where changes will need to be made. Ahead of 2020 it will also be important to ensure HR personnel and line managers receive adequate training on these new regulations and how they will apply to staff in the future.