Posted on 8.9.16
Losing a child is unimaginable, in addition to the emotion, loss and grief, parents have to organise arrangements from registering the death to arranging the funeral. Sadly, an estimated 5,000 children die each year leaving loved ones and parents to get through this tragedy.
The law regarding this situation has recently come under the spotlight, because currently there is no statutory right to take time off on compassionate or bereavement grounds. Parents of children up to six months old are entitled to paid leave under maternity and paternity laws, but if a child dies over the age of six months, there is no law that allows for the parents needs or well-being during this time, in essence they have no bereavement rights.
Most companies have a policy regarding compassionate leave, which will be found in an employment contract or staff handbook. This will explain whether there is a set period of time granted and if any time off will be paid or unpaid.
There is no legal recognition for ‘bereavement rights.’ There is no legal obligation for an employer to grant compassionate or bereavement leave unless it is written in the contract of employment, but it is rare that an employer would refuse compassionate leave, so communication is the best option to try and negotiate some leave. The amount of time given is down to the employer, it could be anything from a few days to several months, known as long term compassionate leave.
There is relevant legislation under the Employment Rights Act 1996, this allows for taking time off work in emergencies involving dependants, for example a funeral, provided that employers are informed as soon as possible.
Dependants are defined as a wife, husband or civil partner, children, parents or someone co-habiting who isn’t a tenant, lodger, boarder or employee. In some scenario’s it can also mean someone who is reliant on care, such as an elderly neighbour. In essence, this is a legal right to time off unpaid, with no set limit of how many days can be taken as leave, and a vague definition of ‘reasonable time’. There is also no statutory right to be paid during this time.
If you have made a reasonable request it is unlikely that you will be refused leave, but if this happens you may be able to use your holiday allocation. If you are struggling you can see your GP who may give you a fit note to say you are not fit to work, whether you will be paid for this should be in your contract or staff handbook.
Some employers have assistance programmes, which can also offer support and are usually confidential which means your situation will be kept private and confidential information won’t be passed on to your employer.
If you are granted compassionate leave but miss out on a promotion opportunity, training or other benefits as a result, you can seek legal advice from a solicitor, and have a look at our employment articles for further information.