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  • Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Act 2024: What does this mean for employers?

Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Act 2024: What does this mean for employers?

The Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Act 2024 has been passed into law. But what are your responsibilities as an employer?

First published on Friday, Jun 21, 2024

Last updated on Friday, Jun 21, 2024

6 min read

On Friday the 24th of May, the Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Bill was granted royal assent. It’s expected to come into effect pending the results of the July General Election.

For employers, adapting to employment laws, particularly those with emotional significance, is hard. But communicating changes to your employees, adapting your HR policies, and making sure you stay in line with new regulations is essential.

So, what does this new act mean for you as an employer, and how can you navigate it effectively?

Why is the law on paternity bereavement changing?

According to debates concerning the topic within Parliament, approximately 180 mothers pass away annually within the first year after giving birth. This has highlighted a critical gap in current legislation: unlike maternity leave, fathers and partners did not have an automatic right to paternity leave from day one.

Typically, employees must have worked for their employer for 26 weeks to qualify for paternity leave. While employers previously had the option to offer paid or unpaid leave at their discretion, there was no legal obligation to do so before the 26-week mark.

The recently passed Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Act aims to address this by introducing a legal right to day-one paternity leave in these circumstances. All rights granted via the act will also be granted to children born through a surrogacy arrangement as well as adoptive parents.

How does the Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Act change the law?

Originally sponsored by Labour MP Chris Elmore, the bill quickly gained cross-party support, and proposes the following changes:

  • Day One Paternity Leave: This removes the minimum service requirement for bereaved fathers and partners in cases where a mother, or person with whom a child is placed or expected to be placed for adoption, dies
  • Unrestricted Paternity Leave: This allows bereaved fathers and partners who have taken shared parental leave to also take paternity leave
  • Leave for Dual Bereavement: This permits leave for fathers and partners when both the mother and child pass away, even if leave is not being taken to care for the child or support the mother
  • Keeping-In-Touch Days: This gives bereaved fathers and partners the right to use ‘keeping-in-touch days’ without ending their leave period, with provisions for greater redundancy protection after they return to work

While the act's main focus is to grant day-one paternity leave to grieving fathers and partners, there’s also another proposal to extend paternity leave for bereaved fathers and partners from two weeks to 52 weeks. And while the act does not currently reflect this increase, it’s expected to be introduced later on.

Before any of the new paternity leave rights under this act can come into law, more regulations will need to be made. Essentially, this means the new Government, pending the 4th of July General Election, will be responsible for implementing this act.

While we can’t say for sure whether the incoming Government will decide to implement the act, the cross-party support the act received in parliament strongly suggests it will after the General Election.

While the act will apply in England, Wales, and Scotland, it will be down to the Northern Ireland Assembly to decide if similar legislation should be extended to Northern Ireland.

What updates do I need to make to my HR policies as an employer?

There’s no action to take before the General Election clarifies things. But in the meantime, you’ll need to think about the key changes you’ll need to make to your HR policies when the regulations come into effect.

To comply with the latest regulations, employers must focus on updating their policies, contracts, and handbooks—particularly as this bill amends the Employment Rights Act 1996.

As with any employment law change, it’s important to make sure these changes are communicated clearly to all employees. On top of this, you’ll need to update your current paternity leave policy, (which can be done via a HR document creation service).

It’s important to teach managers and HR staff about this new law. This way, they can deal with leave requests in a caring and appropriate way until the law is implemented.

How can I support my employees suffering from grief?

When the unthinkable happens, it can be easy to shrink back and avoid the topic with employees. But the purpose of this new act is to make sure employees have a legal right to the time off they need to grieve.

As an employer, there are always more ways you can help. Parents already have the legal right to two weeks off with statutory pay if they lose a child. But, offering extra pay & time off allows them more time to grieve, and can really help them through what is undoubtedly a very difficult time.

If this isn’t possible in your business, introducing an employee assistance programme can provide the right professional counselling and support for employees.

For instant expert advice on this topic, ask Bright BrAInbox: How long should I give off to someone suffering from grief?

Will the General Election affect paternity leave laws?

Should Labour win the polls in the general election, the existing requirement of 26 weeks of service for statutory paternity leave may be abolished for all workers, not solely bereaved partners, potentially altering this law.

While the act grants leave rights, it does not specify pay details. So, the future of paternity pay rights remains cloudy for now. This will, however, be clarified soon by the incoming government in July.

Need more support?

Navigating highly sensitive topics like bereavement with your employees can be daunting. And when it comes to employment law, getting it wrong can be costly for your business.

That’s why BrightAdvice is available to business owners 24/7 for existing and upcoming employment law guidance, backed by 50+ years of expertise as and when you need it most.

Get instant support from BrightAdvice: 0800 470 2432

Not a BrightAdvice customer? Learn more about how we can support your business through change here.

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