Workplace Report March 2020


New right gives parents time to grieve over loss of a child

The law on paid time off for grieving workers is set to change and from 6 April the right to statutory paid bereavement leave for employees who lose a child under the age of 18 will come into effect. 

The new entitlement, nicknamed Jack’s Law after Jack Herd, the 23-month old boy whose mother Lucy has been campaigning on the issue since he drowned in the 2010, is designed to support an estimated 10,000 parents a year. Parents employed in a job for six months or more will be able to claim statutory pay for a two-week period, in line with the approach for other parental entitlements, such as paternity leave and pay.

The law will come into effect in England, Scotland, and Wales but is alo expected to apply in Northern Ireland. 

Bare bones of the new law

From April, the Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Regulations 2020 implement a right to at least two weeks’ leave if a working parent loses a child under the age of 18, or suffers a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

Who is entitled?

• employed parents and adults with parental responsibility who have suffered the loss of a child under the age of 18;

• adults with “parental responsibility” includes adopters, foster parents and guardians. It’s also expected to apply to those classed as “kinship carers”, who may be close relatives or family friends that have assumed responsibility for looking after a child in the absence of parents;

• parents who suffer a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. In this instance, female employees will still be entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave and/or pay, as will a mother who loses a child after it is born; 

• parents and primary carers must have been employed for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks before the child’s death to be eligible for paid parental bereavement leave. All employees have a “day one” right to unpaid bereavement leave.

What are they entitled to?

• parents and primary carers who have been employed for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks prior to when the child dies, and have received pay above the lower earnings limit (£118 a week for 2019-20) for the previous eight weeks, are entitled to at least two weeks’ statutory paid leave or 90% of average weekly earnings, where this is lower);

• workers who have not been employed for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks are entitled to two weeks’ unpaid leave;

• the two weeks’ leave can be taken either in one block of two weeks, or as two separate blocks of one week each. It must be taken within 56 weeks of the date of the child’s death. This is to allow for time to be taken off for difficult events such as birthdays or anniversaries;

• notice requirements for taking the leave will be flexible, so it can be taken at short notice;

• the pay rate for bereavement leave is still to be confirmed, but is expected to be similar to the statutory rate for maternity/paternity leave.

The regulations are available at:

Unions, on the whole, have welcomed the new law. However, they believe more should be offered. Diane Holland,assistant general secretary of general union Unite , said: “It is not enough to rely on the kindness of employers to ensure that people are given the time to process their loss. Bereaved workers are being forced to return to work before they have had even the semblance of a chance to recover, especially in industries where exploitative or insecure working practices are rife.”

Currently, the law only obliges employers to grant “reasonable” time off for “dependants” and indicates that this time can be treated as sick leave, holiday leave or unpaid. Any paid time off for bereavement when workers’ lose parents, siblings, or other family members, is entirely dependent on what union activists and negotiators can get agreed and the discretion of employers. 

LRD Payline data reveals that unions have negotiated bereavement leave that ranges from a couple of weeks at full pay, to single unpaid days off to attend the funerals of more distant relatives and friends. The data includes up-to-date figures on existing bereavement leave policies, sometimes called “special leave” or “compassionate leave” covering 118 employers and over 1.7 million workers across the private, public and voluntary sectors. 

Ahead of the game 

Twenty three union employers have anticipated the upcoming law change as their most recent agreements specify bereavement leave for parents with a child under 18. 

Of these, 14 (five private sector, eight public sector and one voluntary sector) go above and beyond the new statutory provision by offering this leave at full pay. Several, including Rolls-Royce and the Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue also explicitly mention that there will be no qualifying period for the entitlement to kick in, unlike the 26 weeks’ service required by the law. 

Table 1: Above and beyond new law

Employer Sector
Rolls Royce — Combine Agreement Private
Vector Aerospace (StandardAero) Private
Stagecoach Newcastle Private
Stagecoach North East Private
Stagecoach South Shields Private
Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Public
South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Public
Bassetlaw District Council Public
London Fire Brigade Public
Manchester University Public
NHS England — Agenda for Change Public
Scottish Borders Council Public
Cambridgeshire County Council Public
National Trust (England/Wales/NI) Voluntary

The most generous agreements define “parent” as: birth parent, step-parent, adoptive parent, long term foster carer, kinship carer or any person who in practice has caring responsibilities for the child. “Child” is also extended to mean stepchildren and for children over the age of 18. 

Tables 2 and 3 shows employers that give workers bereavement leave at full pay for members of the family. A third of the employers offer differentiated leave, meaning the leave entitlement changes according to the relative closeness of the deceased to the worker. They have been categorised in the tables as follows:

•  column 1: either the main policy provision or the best entitlement offered on the death of spouse, parent, sibling or child (sometimes grandchild)

•  column 2: secondary entitlement for grandparents, parents – in law, other close relatives

•  column 3: tertiary entitlement when the employer provides leave for the death of aunts, uncles, distant relatives and others. 

While not comprehensive, the table covers sectors as diverse as transport, aerospace, energy, logistics, engineering and retail as well as a variety of public sector employers.

Private sector

Table 2: Private sector agreements — days on full pay

Employer Primary Secondary Tertiary Discretionary
P&O Carnival Cruises 14 - - Y
Morrisons 10 - - Y
Unilever - Trafford Park (Manuf, Eng & Tech) 10 3 1 N
Stagecoach Newcastle 7 5 2 N
Stagecoach North East 7 5 2 N
Stagecoach South Shields 7 5 2 N
Airbus UK 5 1 - Y
Alliance Healthcare 5 - - N
BAE Systems Maritime - Naval Ships, Glasgow 5 3 1 N
Campden BRI 5 - - Y
DHL (Sainsbury’s) Dartford 5 - - Y
GE Power 5 - - Y
GKN Aerospace Western Approach 5 1 - Y
Greencore (Worksop) 5 2 1 N
Honda UK Manufacturing 5 3 1 Y
Hoyer Petrolog (BP Oil Drivers - Greenfleet) 5 - - Y
Invista Textiles (Gloucester) 5 - - Y
Leyland Trucks 5 3 1 Y
Liverpool Dock Workers (Peel Ports) 5 1 - Y
Offshore Contractors Association (OCA) 5 - -
Polypipe Building Products 5 1 -
Sainsbury’s Retail 5 - - Y
Stadco Powys 5 3 1 N
Tesco (retail) 5 - - N
Toyota 5 3 1
Virgin Atlantic (Cabin Crew) 5 - - Y
Co-operative Banking Group 5 - - Y
Places for People Housing 5 - - Y
Premier Foods (Ashford) 5 1 - Y
Heating Ventilating & Domestic Eng JCC 5 - - Y
Tyne & Wear Metro 5 - -
Racing Staff NJC 5 - - Y
DHL Prudhoe Distribution Centre 4 3 1 N
Solvay - Oldbury 4 1 - Y
Facility Management UK (Coolkeeragh) 3 1 - N
Agriculture (Scotland) 3 - - N
Demolition Contracting 2 - -
CHDA (Maximus) As required - - Y
M&G (Prudential) As required - - Y

Thirty nine of the agreements are from the private sector (see table 2 above). P&O Carnival Cruises offers the best deal with a full 14 days’ paid leave, followed closely by supermarket group Morrison’s and food multinational Unilever Old Trafford with 10 days respectively. A couple of agreements offer paid leave as required, for example financial services group M & G (Prudential). 

Public and voluntary sector

There are 44 public sector employers in table 3 where unions have negotiated paid bereavement leave provisions of five days or more. Nine of these have won a full 10 days or two weeks’ paid leave. They include three local councils, the Welsh Government and the Welsh NHS, two universities and the London Fire Service. The vast majority of the rest offer five paid days of leave as standard. 

Table 3: Public and voluntary sectors — days on full pay

Employer Primary Secondary Tertiary Discretionary
Public sector
Bassetlaw District Council 10 3 3 N
London Fire Brigade 10 - N
Caerphilly County Borough Council 10 3 1 Y
Dorset County Council 10 - -
Goldsmiths College 10 - - Y
Liverpool University 10 1 Y
London Fire & Rescue Staff 10 - - Y
NHS Wales - Agenda for Change 10 - - N
Welsh Government 10 1 Y
West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service 6 - - Y
Manchester University 5 - - N
NHS England - Agenda for Change 5 1 N
Scottish Borders Council 5 1 N
Aberdeen University 5 1 - Y
Bath University 5 - - Y
Birmingham Univ (Academic, Higher Admin Staff) 5 - - Y
Brentwood Borough Council 5 - - Y
Buckinghamhamshire College Group 5 3 - Y
City of London 5 - - Y
Direct Rail Services (DRS) Drivers 5 1 -
Dorset Police Staff 5 - - Y
Durham University 5 - - N
George Best Belfast City Airport 5 - - N
Glasgow Life 5 - - N
Knowsley Borough Council 5 1 - Y
London Borough of Haringey 5 - - Y
London Borough of Sutton 5 1 - N
MidKent College 5 - - Y
Moray Council 5 3 2 Y
Natural England 5 2 - N
New College Stamford 5 - - N
Newcastle University 5 1 - N
Northamptonshire County Council 5 1 - Y
Police Staff (Scotland) 5 - -
Rochdale Borough Council 5 - - Y
Royal Borough of Greenwich 5 - -
Runnymede Borough Council 5 - - Y
West Devon Borough Council 5 - - Y
National Audit Office (NAO) 5 3 1 Y
Northumberland County Council 5 - - Y
Nottingham City Council 5 - - Y
Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue As required - - N
Runshaw College As required - - Y
Voluntary sector
Wheatley Group 10 - - Y
London Zoo 7 2 N
Citizens Advice Bureau 5 - - Y
RSPCA 5 - - Y
British Film Institute 5 - - Y
National Trust (England/Wales/NI) 5 - - Y

Devil in the detail 

The wording of bereavement policies can include specific details qualifying the provisions. For example, the Welsh Government agreement allows two weeks paid leave off before a funeral if the worker is involved in the arrangements for this. It makes clear that the offer of the two full paid weeks off depends on the closeness of the relation who has died. 

Some agreements include specific provisions for the executors of wills, even where the deceased is not necessarily a close relative. Pipe manufacturer Polypipe, makes clear that it will only give one period of bereavement paid leave per employee effectively asking workers to take unpaid leave if they are bereaved more than once. Several mention the potential for “exceptionally long journeys” to attend funerals and give additional time for this.

It can only be hoped that employers use their discretion sensitively at this difficult time for a worker and reps confirm that it is often used to extend agreed terms if these are short. 

A shop steward from chemical firm Solvay Solutions said managers use discretion to offer more days off: “Managers often offer more than the four days at 7.4 hours, particularly for 12 hour shift people, where three days to plan for a funeral at 7.4 hours would clearly not be giving the same time to plan as for a shorter shift worker.” However, this policy also requires 12 months’ service to qualify. 

At health assessment firm CHDA (Maximus), paid compassionate leave is granted at the discretion of the employee’s manager. In general, this is up to two days — but where further days are required, these can be approved at director level. 

In contrast, the University of Liverpool may offer a generous 10 days’ leave, but its policy is clear that this is a maximum and the discretion will be used on a case-by-case basis. 

Unilever workers have won an overall better deal. As well as their 10 days fully paid leave days, they may also ask for further discretionary compassionate leave. StrictlyEducation4s uses maximum discretion as their management has an “informal come back when you are ready’ approach”. 

Where the use of managerial discretion becomes an issue is in the area of defining the relative “closeness” of the deceased to the worker.

There are positive examples, such as Brentwood Borough Council, which has extended the definition of close relative to include aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.

But other councils are more cautious in their policies. Caerphilly insists it will need to review individually requests for bereavement leave when the employee has been brought up by another relative, not their parent. 

A Unison rep at Mendip District Council had an issue where “a member of staff requested compassionate leave because their mother-in-law had died and the manager didn’t feel that the relationship was close enough to meet agreed requirements for leave.” The rep had to argue that the employee was assisting in the funeral arrangements to meet the criteria for paid leave and the whole incident “caused a lot of stress”.

A London Fire Brigade rep reported a similar problem with staff who wanted to attend the funeral of their former partner, with whom they’d had children as “an ex-partner is not regarded as a close relative under the policy”. 

On a more positive note, a rep at Natural England says his members may push to have the bereavement policy to cover non-family members. This is in part for the LGBT community “as attachment to closer personal friends can be stronger amongst single LGBT than amongst partnered couples”. 

Nearly all reps surveyed noted that even generous policies did not always provide enough leave to deal with the distress and mental health consequences of bereavement. A Leyland Trucks rep said “workers have had to resort to getting sick notes to cover extra time off when necessary” as five days company leave is often not enough. 

This is also the case at Airbus Operations and the London Fire Brigade — where depending on the relation to the family member who passes, staff are required to take a combination of compassionate leave and annual leave following bereavement, and are not given the full ten days entitlement. Likewise, a rep from Runshaw College confirmed that grieving workers use sick notes on top of any allowances.

Agreements with fewer paid days leave often also allow for additional unpaid leave. This is the case for the car equipment firm Stadco Powys. 

The wording of the Buckinghamshire College Group’s policy states that” bereavement of a relative, partner of dependant affects every individual differently”. It suggests extra time off without pay where appropriate.