If you were to suffer the loss of your child would you be given time off work? You might be shocked to find out that in such circumstances, as the law currently stands, in the UK there is no statutory right to time off for compassionate leave or on grounds of bereavement of any relative.
Whilst many employers are likely to be understanding and allow you the time off you need to come to terms with such a tragic loss they are under no legal obligation to do so unless they have a policy or contractual entitlement providing for paid compassionate leave.
As UK law currently stands you can take unpaid leave from your work to deal with family emergencies for “a reasonable amount of time”. Therefore, if your child were to die you would have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off work to take action which is necessary in consequence of the death of the child. Whilst this right is available to all employees from day one of employment it is very limited and only allows for time to deal with the logistical matters which arise from a death, such as arranging and attending the funeral. It is not a right to compassionate leave. Further, this right to take limited time off is unpaid.
You can of course request to take annual leave. In addition, if you are unwell as a result of the circumstances, you could take sick leave, but many employers do not pay more than statutory sick pay.
We understand that many other countries across the world and in Europe have statutory bereavement leave. It is surprising, therefore, that the UK does not offer similar protection. I would welcome a change in the law which introduces a paid time off on a statutory wage for grieving parents. This is the very least they need at such a difficult time.
The MP for Colchester, Will Quince, is bringing forward a bill which would provide bereaved parents statutory entitlement to paid leave. If successful it will mean that the thousands of parents who undergo the tragedy of losing a child in the UK each year will be better supported by employment laws.
Harriet Bowtell is a senior employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
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