Jack’s Law and Bereavement Leave

What is Bereavement Leave Under Jack’s Law?

Working parents who lose a child are to be entitled to two weeks’ statutory leave, under the new legal right – referred to as ‘Jack’s Law’ – which came into force in April 2020.

Jack’s Law is named after 23-month-old Jack Herd, who tragically lost his life in 2010 after drowning in a pond. His father returned to work just a mere three days after Jack’s death, whilst Jack’s mother, Lucy Herd, began a campaign to highlight the problems facing bereaved parents who previously were expected to return to work as quickly as possible.

On the issue, Lucy Herd said: “in the immediate aftermath of a child dying, parents have to cope with their loss, the grief of their wider family, including other children, as well as a vast amount of administrative paperwork and other arrangements.

This new law will allow bereaved parent’s some breathing space to grieve without worrying about returning to work immediately.

Previously, there was no automatic right to paid time off work following the loss of a child. However, under the new law that is now in force, the UK is the only country providing the right to paid leave for bereaved parents.

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said of the new legislation that: “when it takes effect, Jack’s Law will be a fitting testament to the tireless efforts of Lucy Herd, alongside many Charities, to give parents greater support.

Who is Entitled Under Jack’s Law?

Jack’s Law, or under its formal title, The Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Regulations, has implemented a statutory right to a minimum of 2 weeks’ leave for all employed parents who lose a child under 18 years of age or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Eligible parents will be able to take their leave as either a consecutive two-week leave or two separate blocks of one week taken at different times; this right can be used regardless of how long they have worked for their current employer.

However, only those employed for at least 26 week’s with their employer will be eligible for Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay (SPBP), which will be paid at the statutory rate of £148.68 per week, or 90% of average weekly earnings where this is lower.

It is estimated that around 7,500 child deaths, and a further 3,000 stillbirths, occur within the UK every year. This new entitlement will help to support at least 10,000 bereaved parents a year.

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How Does Jack’s Law Help Parents?

There’s no doubt that the loss of a child can be an extremely traumatic and painful experience for a parent. In a perfect world, no one should have to say goodbye to their child. If this unthinkable life event does occur, it’s important that parents are given the support to overcome their loss.

When you have suffered a terrible loss such as this, it’s essential that you are given time to grieve and process what has happened. Not having the time to grieve can cause further issues for the parent such as a mental health decline and unwilling to accept the situation. In dealing with death to a loved one, the grieving process is a natural and important step. It will hurt, as it should do, but it will allow you to move on with your life and enables you to adapt the negative experience into positive energy for the future.

We all feel grief and pain whenever we lose a loved one, but the damage is even greater when the death concerns a child. If a parent is rushed back to work, they not only skip the mourning process but will endure additional stress and pressure from their employment duties. This is where Jack’s Law is a really important and effective legal right. Employers must now ensure parents receive two weeks’ leave and that they are paid while on leave. During this time, the parent will be able to grieve with their family and sort out any important arrangements and paperwork.

Bereaved Parent Examples

Dawn Allen lost her son Henry in 2013 when he was four years old, due to childhood cancer known as neuroblastoma. Dawn left her job to help Henry during his illness and eventual death, whilst her husband Mark worked continuously to support his family. Financial burdens and fear of unemployment often push parents back to work before they are ready.

Dawn described being a bereaved parent as the “most horrific experience” before stating that “Jack’s Law will really, really help bereaved families. I think it is something that bereaved parents do need and should have had the option a long time ago.

Dawn also commented that being able to take the two weeks leave either together or as two separate weeks is massively important, as “you may find later on, as the days and the weeks and the months go on, you realise that your child is not coming back and that’s a massive reality check.

Some bereaved parents simply have to continue with their employment. When Ian Bainbridge’s son Ellis was stillborn after 34 weeks, he had to take a day’s annual leave just to attend the funeral; there was no respite at all from his job.

Ian, an ex-nurse working in London, was responsible for managing 40 carers and vividly recalls breaking the news of his son’s stillbirth to his boss, “I rang my line manager and said, ‘You won’t believe what’s happened.’ He said, ‘I’m sorry to hear that, but I’ve got no-one to cover for you tomorrow. You’re going to have to come in.

He describes the anguish he was going through, with his son Ellis being stillborn at 10:00 pm, yet Ian was back at his job at 8:00 am the following day. “I was back answering the telephone, being polite. Inside, I was screaming.” If it weren’t for his two other children, Ian believes he would have contemplated suicide as a result of the pressure he was under after losing Ellis.

During her campaign for Jack’s Law, Lucy Herd describes speaking to other bereaved parents, where there were inaccuracies between what employers were saying and how parents were subsequently treated, as “employers were saying ‘take as much time as you need’, and they were taking six months off, and it was down on their record as being off sick. They’d come back to a P45 on their desk.

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Implications for Bereavement Leave

Hopefully, through this reform, people can deal with the trauma of losing a child better than before when they felt the need to return to the workplace.

At the moment, the current bereavement award, in our respectful view, is too low. It does not provide sufficient compensation for suffering from the death of a family member. The government has assessed the award over the years for the loss of a close family member, wife, husband, son, daughter in the current sum of £12,980.

Whilst we appreciate that no amount of money is going to compensate for the loss of a loved one, the current government award is unjust. Following Jack’s Law, we hope that there is also room for improvement in terms of the compensation awards given to bereaved families, irrespective of whether the loss is a young child, brother, sister, mother or father.

How Does COVID-19 Affect Jack’s Law and Grief?

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all in some way ever since it swept across the globe since the early months of 2020. Day-to-day lives have been put on hold, financial ruin has damaged the livelihoods of many, and healthcare systems have bordered on the brink of collapse. Most damaging of all, over two million people have now died from the coronavirus.

While the loss of a loved one is usually a rare thing to happen in the majority of the population’s life, 2020 and 2021 has brought that possibility closer to reality for many of us. Because of this terrible virus, millions of families have been forced to say one last goodbye to a close relative. Many of these deaths could have been avoided and we must remember that it isn’t only the elderly that are dying from COVID-19. Even when we consider that the elderly population is more likely to die from the virus, this does not make it acceptable or any less heartbreaking on the families affected.

It’s fair to say that because of COVID-19, in these current times, more people across the world are coming to terms with a bereavement and suffering from the grief and pain that this causes. This raises an interesting probe into how we as a society handle bereavement and grief, both from a moral and a legal perspective.

The Independent has recently published an article which explores this very topic, including how it affects employment rights. In this report, the story of a school teacher who lost his wife to cancer is featured. Despite the pain and grief that this would have caused the teacher, he was only afforded three days of compassionate leave. The article notes that currently, Jack’s Law is the only legal requirement that someone is entitled to when mourning a loss. If you haven’t lost a child under 18, then you legally aren’t entitled to bereavement leave.

That said, the article goes on to describe how the impact of COVID-19 will hopefully alter how bereavement is viewed. A new campaign has been formed to encourage the UK government to enact a law that would provide two weeks statutory bereavement leave for anyone coping with the loss of a close relative or partner. It is hoped that moving forward, employers will show more empathy when dealing with employees who have lost someone close to them. This can include providing them with enough time to grief and heal, showing compassion when speaking to them, and offering any support initiatives to aid them through their crisis.

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If you have any issues arising from this article regarding Jack’s Law or any other matter concerning a bereavement award, fatal accident compensation or your rights and the law, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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