23 October 2017
In its 2017 Manifesto, the Conservative Party vowed to provide additional rights for paid leave for parents who have lost a child.
On Friday (20 October 2017), the Parental Bereavement Leave received its first debate, and details of the government’s plans were revealed.
What does the Bill propose?
The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill proposes that employees are afforded a statutory right to two weeks’ of leave as a day-one right should they lose a child under the age of 18.
If the employee has a minimum of 26 weeks’ continuous service for their employer and their normal earnings for eight weeks prior to the bereavement are not lower than the lower earnings limit (currently £113 per week), they will also be eligible for statutory pay, currently at £140.98 a week or 90% of average weekly earnings.
The Bill proposes that a minimum eight-week window within which the two weeks of leave must be taken should be set in regulation.
Need for reform
During the debate, Conservative MP Mike Wood reported on statistics from the Rainbow Trust survey, which found nearly one in ten employers (9%) were “not at all supportive” when a member of their workforce lost a child.
He also shared personal stories gathered through research into the issue:
“…a parent told us that their employer— a NHS body—offered them only five days’ leave following the sudden passing of their youngest daughter, with any additional time having to be taken as annual leave. Brendan from Newcastle told us that he did not get any paid leave and was sacked nine months later. Gillian from Milton Keynes did not receive the appropriate support when she lost her daughter 13 years ago. She told us that the measures proposed in the Bill would have meant that she and her partner could have grieved together, and provided help and support for their other children.”
His colleague Will Quince added:
“…only this morning, after I appeared on “Good Morning Britain”, somebody sent me an email saying they were told they had to take a day’s holiday to attend their child’s funeral.”
People potentially not covered by the Bill
While “parent” is not yet clearly defined by the Bill, Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake reassured the House that further consultation will be conducted in order to ensure adoptive parents do not lose out on rights, saying “clearly the legislation cannot just be about biological parents … we want the maximum possible opportunity for consultation and submission of evidence, and for debate on these matters so that we ensure that we get the Bill right.”
On the issue of self-employed people, Mr Hollinrak did not guarantee they will be covered, saying that this aspect of the law should be left until after the government has considered the recommendations of the Taylor Review of employment practices. The outcome of this may affect thousands of people currently working in the so-called “gig economy” who are already on a low wage.
It was highlighted by Labour MP Karen Lee that people on zero-hour contracts, currently defined as “workers” in law, may fall below the lower earnings limit over an eight-week period and miss out on this right as a result. She suggested that earnings may need to be taken as an average of the past 12 months’ in order to make this system fair.
People who wish to take time to grieve beyond the initial eight weeks
Some MPs argued that an eight-week window is too short to have a benefit. Will Quince suggested this window should be extended to six months, particularly as it is known some people – particularly fathers – bottle up their feelings and grieve later.
Karen Lee added the recommendation of Unison to have the statutory right to a week off, and then the ability to take off the second week of leave as odd days when needed.
“You never know when you are going to have something come up like a funeral or a day when the grief just hits you, and you need a day off then,” she explained.
People who lose a child over the age of 18
The Bill does not allow for statutory leave or pay for workers who lose a child over the age of 18, but Business Secretary Margot James stated the government will attempt “to encourage employers to act sympathetically” in such an instance, through such means as ACAS codes of best practice.