The new law, which is expected to come into force in April, is the culmination of a decade-long campaign by Lucy Herd, whose 23-month-old son, Jack, drowned in a pond in 2010. At the time of his son’s death, Jack’s father was allowed only three days off work to grieve, one of which had to be for the funeral.
“In the immediate aftermath of a child dying, parents have to cope with their own loss, the grief of their wider family, including other children, as well as a vast amount of administrative paperwork and other arrangements,” says Herd. “A sudden or accidental death may require a postmortem or inquest, and there are many other organisations to contact, from schools to benefit offices.”
Until now, there has been no legislation covering how much leave companies must offer when an employee’s child has died: the law simply said that the amount should be “reasonable”.
On its website, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) advises employers to “be compassionate towards a person’s individual situation; remember that everyone deals with bereavement differently (some people may need more time off than others)”. But in advice that will shortly be out of date, it reminds employers: “There is no automatic right to paid time off for bereavement.”
The Rainbow Trust, which supports families with a seriously ill child from diagnosis through to bereavement, was part of the consultation process behind the new law. Anne Harris, Director of Care at the charity, says that, while she welcomes it, she “would caution that it should not be assumed that grief can be resolved in two weeks. Parents tell us that they never get over the death of their child, they just learn to live with it.