Two weeks of leave for UK parents who lose a child

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Lucy Herd

Image caption

Jack died two weeks before his second birthday

Parents who lose a child will receive two weeks’ paid bereavement leave under new government rules.

The law will come into force in April, with the UK being the only country to have that right to time off, MPs said.

It will be known as Jack’s Law, in memory of Jack Herd, whose mother Lucy has been campaigning for reform since he drowned aged 23 months in 2010.

As the law currently stands, there is no automatic right to paid time off for bereavement.

Under the new law, parents who lose a child under the age of 18 will be able to take leave as either a single block of two weeks, or as two separate blocks of one week each across the first year after the death.

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Clea Harmer, chief executive of Sands, a stillbirth and neonatal death charity, said parents also need support after such a traumatic event

After talking to her relatives, Ms Herd, from Cumbria, found that three days was sometimes the maximum leave workplaces offered parents to grieve, she told the BBC.

“Anything from 24 hours to three days and any extra time taken had to be sick leave or holiday,” she said.

When she spoke to other bereaved parents, she found a gap between what employers were saying and how working parents were treated.

“More and more people told me they had experienced the same thing. Employers were saying ‘take as much time as you need’, and they were taking six months off, and it was down on their record as being off sick. They’d come back to a P45 on their desk.”

“I had to make a positive out of a negative” in campaigning for change, she said.

She would like to see similar rights extended to those grieving any loved one.

“When I started this it was about everyone’s bereavement,” she said. “Grief is grief.”

The Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill received royal assent in 2018, and will now come into force.

The Conservatives made a commitment in their 2017 general election manifesto to introduce “a new entitlement to child bereavement leave”.

Under the new rules, people who have been employed for at least 26 weeks will be entitled to a minimum payment of up to £148 a week during their bereavement leave, depending on the level of their salary.

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Lucy Herd said relatives could only get one to three days off to grieve

Clea Harmer, chief executive of Sands, a stillbirth and neonatal death charity, told the BBC the new rules were a good start, but that the time off should be part of broader care for parents who have lost a child.

“A lot of parents, after the death of a baby or a child, suffer the sort of grief or reaction to grief that needs psychological intervention,” she said. Time off and support early on can make a big difference, she said.

Bereavement leave and the law

The new rules will take effect in April, but as the law stands, there is no automatic right to paid time off for bereavement.

  • Anyone classed as an employee has the right to time off for a “dependant”
  • This time off is for dealing with unexpected issues and emergencies involving the dependant, including leave to arrange or attend a funeral
  • The law does not say how much time off can be taken. It simply says the amount should be “reasonable”
  • Employers can treat time off for bereavement as sick leave or holiday leave, depending on their workplace policy and the individual circumstances
  • If the employee takes the time off as sick leave or holiday leave, their normal sick or holiday pay will apply.

Source: Acas

Another area requiring improvement is breaking the stigma of talking about the death of children, Ms Harmer added.

The new measures are “an indication we are doing well”, she said, but “we could do better”.

“People don’t talk about the death of a baby or a child leaving parents very isolated.”

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said the measures were “a minimum, and something to build on”.

“In many cases, businesses are incredibly sympathetic and very supportive of parents who have been bereaved, but what we are saying is, this is the statutory minimum and we would hope and encourage them to offer more than that,” she said.

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said Labour had long-supported the proposal and welcomed its announcement.

“As set out in our Workers’ Rights Manifesto, Labour is calling for bereavement leave for those who have lost a close family member,” she said.

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