Supporting employees through the loss of a child
The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 comes into force in 2020. The Act supports families who suffer the loss of a child aged under 18 years or a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy though the right to take two weeks paid leave within a 56-week window. The legislation focuses on leave and pay but this is also an opportunity for employers to review their policies and the support that they can offer.
Although the legislation is welcomed, its shortfalls are raised by the charity The Compassionate Friends who would like to see the entitlement to bereavement pay and leave extended and broadened.
According to Child Bereavement UK, there is a 44% increase in sickness absence following bereavement. Workplace support is often lacking for the bereaved employee whose work performance can be understandably severely impacted.
Furthermore, the charity reveals that one third of employees who had been bereaved in the last five years did not feel they had received a compassionate response from their employer, four in ten felt isolated at work and 46% felt actively avoided.
Grief is experienced in very individual and unpredictable ways, there is no right or wrong way and it is an ongoing process; workplace support may be necessary for a bereaved employee for many months or even years, and with this in mind employers should aim to be flexible in their approach.
For example, some people may feel they are not able to return to the role they were doing before. Their role might be customer-facing or working with children and it is vital that employers understand each individual situation. Managers should be trained, policies should be in place, approaches and preferred modes of communication should be addressed sensitively. Employers could consider offering flexible or part time working if the employee isn’t ready to return to full time work, a period of special leave or a career break.
Employers with access to Occupational Health or Employment Assistance Programme services may wish to guide their employees for support.
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