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News added on 16.11.2020

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A new statutory right to bereavement leave?

National bereavement charity Sue Ryder is urging the government to introduce a right to two weeks’ paid bereavement leave for employees who lose a partner or close relative. What are current rights to bereavement leave and is a new statutory right likely to be introduced?

According to a Censuswide survey of 1,000 working age adults in September 2020, almost a quarter of employees experienced a bereavement in the past twelve months. However, there’s currently no general statutory right to bereavement leave in UK law.

Employees do have a statutory right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with certain unexpected emergencies involving dependants. This can cover taking a couple of days off to deal with matters arising as a result of the death of a dependant, such as arranging and attending the funeral, but it’s not a right to bereavement leave or time off to grieve. A dependant for these purposes is defined as a spouse, civil partner, child, parent or a person living in the same household as the employee. It doesn’t include wider family members such as grandparents and siblings, unless they live in the same household. In addition, those who are parents have a statutory right to take up to two weeks’ parental bereavement leave and pay following the death of a child under 18, or a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

What this means though is that an employee has no statutory right to take any time off at all where the deceased wasn’t a dependant or their child.

An Employment Bill is due to be introduced into Parliament either at the end of 2020 or in early 2021 but it isn’t expected to include any provision for statutory bereavement leave. There has also been no recent consultation on a proposal for bereavement leave. Therefore, it’s highly unlikely that a new statutory right will be introduced in the foreseeable future as any such proposal would require consultation and primary legislation, all of which takes time, and right now both the coronavirus pandemic and finalising the end of the Brexit transition period are occupying the Parliamentary timetable.

If you do want to introduce a bereavement leave policy, questions to think about first include:

  • will your policy be discretionary or contractual?
  • how much time off do you want to grant, and will it be paid, part-paid or unpaid?
  • will the amount of leave granted differ depending on the employee’s relationship with the deceased, e.g. more days following the death of an immediate family member and fewer days following the death of a wider family member? How will you define immediate and wider family?
  • will you grant time off where the deceased wasn’t a family member but was a close friend of the employee?
  • will the time off granted be in addition to, or include, time off taken under existing statutory rights?

There is no general statutory right to bereavement leave - it’s entirely a matter of contract. The only statutory rights are to unpaid time off for dependants, which can include a couple of days’ off for arranging and attending the funeral, or two weeks’ paid parental bereavement leave on the death of a child. However, unless it’s introduced as a emergency measure during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s highly unlikely that a general statutory right to bereavement leave will become law in the near future as there are no current government proposals for it.

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