Employers urged to use new Parental Bereavement Act to review all bereavement policies

The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018* coming into force this month (April 2020) is an opportunity for employers to ensure their bereavement policy also demonstrates compassion and sensitivity, according to RedArc. The new legal right to two weeks’ paid bereavement leave, to be called ‘Jack’s Law’, is a world first but RedArc warns that giving staff time off needs to be supplemented with emotional support too.

Christine Husbands, managing director, RedArc Nurses said: “Although the paid parental bereavement leave has been significantly extended, it should be seen as the bare minimum provision, with employers able to play a much bigger part in supporting a bereaved member of staff through such a devastating event, not just in extended leave but emotional support too.”

The statistics

Around 7,500 child deaths, including around 3,000 stillbirths, occur in the UK every year and so the government estimates that this new entitlement will help to support around 10,000 parents each year.

The impact of bereavement on employees

The loss of a child will have a significant impact on an employee for a long period of time. Once the child’s funeral is over, an employee can feel the loss most keenly and so can feel isolated, lonely and become withdrawn and depressed. Employees often fear returning to work and facing colleagues, such a life-changing event inevitably brings a re-evaluation of priorities, a loss of confidence and self-esteem may mean employees start doubting their own ability – therefore increased sick leave and absence are not uncommon. The ability to concentrate, make decisions, meet deadlines and maintain performance can all be compromised for quite some time, and there can be higher incidences of job-related injuries and accidents.

The impact of bereavement on employers

The change in a colleague’s practical and emotional needs can have a knock-on effect on other employees, who are often at a loss as to how to respond when a colleague returns to work after bereavement. Over time they may also feel that accommodating the needs of a bereaved colleague places added pressure on them.

Unplanned absence can have a detrimental effect on productivity and therefore as well as being the right thing to do in line with an employer’s duty of care, providing appropriate support for a grieving employee makes good business sense too.

The solution

Support services are available directly or can be offered as an added-value service via a number of employee benefits, including employee assistance programmes, protection insurance (income protection, critical illness, life), private medical insurance and cashplans.

  • Bearing in mind the long-term and changing nature of grief, continuity and longevity of support is vital.
  • As everyone grieves differently, a bereavement policy needs to be tailored to meet the needs of each individual.
  • Third-party support is valued as it is provided independently from an employer, which means the employee is more likely to be uninhibited and so can get more benefit from the support.

As well as telephone and face-to-face counselling, other types of support include sharing reading materials, and signposting to self-help groups and charities.

Christine Husbands concluded: “Losing a child is every parents’ worst nightmare. There is no prescribed or ‘right way’ to grieve which means bereavement can impact on an employee physically, emotionally and practically but employers can make themselves ‘bereavement-friendly’ by being prepared and being aware. Paid leave is the starting point and now that it’s become legislation, it is the bare minimum that employees will come to expect. Employers now have a great opportunity to demonstrate their care and sensitivity by also supporting the emotional wellbeing of grieving staff.”