Should bereaved parents be given statutory paid leave?

Kevin Poulter
Many employers will be sympathetic to the loss of a child, but statutory protection could go further

Conservative MP Will Quince has presented a bill in parliament, seeking to introduce a statutory right of two weeks’ paid leave for parents who lose a child. Although it will always be a difficult issue to discuss, it is important for parents in such a tragic situation to have some reassurance that their pay and positions will be protected.

But is it time for parliament to look again at the rights afforded to parents?

Quince and his wife suffered the loss of a child, which was stillborn at full term in 2014. The Parental Bereavement Leave (Statutory Entitlement) Bill, which he has presented, and which will have its second reading in parliament on 28 October, seeks to provide a period of paid leave to parents who lose a child, and who would otherwise have no protection.

What’s the current situation?

As it stands, if a mother loses a child 15 weeks before the expected date of childbirth, or at any time during ordinary or additional maternity leave, she will continue to receive all the rights and benefits she would have been entitled to had the child been born or continued to live.

Similarly, a father who suffers the loss of a child 24 weeks from conception, or in the 56 days after the child is born or the date of an adoption, has a right to paid paternity leave – albeit at the lower of the capped statutory paternity rate (currently £139.58) or 90 per cent of a normal week’s earnings.

However, if a child dies after the end point at which any parental leave may be taken, current law makes no provision for any right to time off, save for limited unpaid, reasonable time off for dependents leave to arrange or attend a funeral.

Many employers will of course be sympathetic to employees who suffer the tragedy of losing a child, whenever and however that may be, and may provide a period of discretionary compassionate leave. But without statutory protection there is no guarantee of such sensitive treatment.

What is being proposed?

Quince informed MPs that it was comforting to know that when his child died at birth, he would receive two weeks’ paid leave. He went on to say: “you are not [however] entitled to leave if you lose a child or an older baby, surely that cannot be right. I have no idea how I would be able to deal with losing a child at seven months.”

The bill calls for a period of two weeks’ paid leave for parents who suffer the loss of a child. However, much will need to be debated and decided if it is to become law, such as the age of the child and whether pay should be capped.

How will it affect businesses?

Some smaller employers in particular may struggle to be as accommodating as they might like to be, purely for financial reasons. Any change should make provision for employers to “recover some of their costs”, as is the case with other parental leave.

However, most employers will be sympathetic to employees who lose a child and will give them all the compassion and grieving time they can afford.

The expected cost of changing the law is £2m. This amount would be very little if it meant providing parents with the peace of mind and reassurance they need at a time when the rest of their world has collapsed. On that basis, a change in the law may be on the way – but one that nobody wants ever to have to rely on.