Northern Ireland passes legislation for bereaved parents

Northern Ireland passes legislation for bereaved parents

Northern Ireland has passed legislation, which provides paid leave for bereaved parents. This comes ahead of a second reading of a similar Bill in England, Scotland and Wales. However, despite recent updates in the law, there is still some way to go before there are full benefits for bereaved parents. 

What protections are currently in place for bereaved parents?

Following the introduction of the new legislation in Northern Ireland, now, across the whole of the UK, bereaved parents are entitled to two weeks’ leave from their employment if:

  1. Their child is stillborn after 24 weeks’ of pregnancy;
  2. They have been continuously employed for at least 26 weeks by the week immediately before the stillbirth;
  3. They earn at least £120 per week before tax in the 8 weeks/two months before the week in which the baby was stillborn; and
  4. They take the leave within 56 weeks of the child being stillborn.

What legislation has been passed?

The new legislation in Northern Ireland entitles parents to 2 weeks’ paid leave following the death of a child or stillbirth. This simply brings the law in Northern Ireland in line with the law in the rest of the UK. Therefore, there is no law anywhere in the UK to protect bereaved parents who sadly lose their babies through stillbirth prior to 24 weeks of pregnancy or through miscarriage at any point during the pregnancy.

As explained in our previous article, Bereavement Bill: Rights of Bereaved Parents and Proposals for Change, England, Scotland and Wales (only) recently considered a Bill that would provide greater rights to parents of babies miscarried or stillborn before the 24-week threshold. This Bill is yet to be passed into legislation.

Is this enough?

There is an increasing awareness of the mental and physical impacts that biological issues can have on employees, such as miscarriages and stillbirth. However, the current legislation does not provide any protection to parents of babies miscarried or stillborn before the 24-week threshold. Further, the current legislation does not provide protection for those who are adopting a child and the adoption falls through or where a parent loses a child conceived with the help of a surrogate.

Consequently, there is significant pressure on the government to afford greater protection to parents who find themselves in these unthinkable situations. Thus, whilst the new proposed legislation is an important step in the right direction, there are considerable efforts to be made before the law has caught up with the societal expectations on the types of support that should be available to parents that suffer the loss of their child. 

What does this mean for employers?

Employers need to ensure that they have clear policies in place for bereavement and ensure that these are in line with the current laws on child bereavement. Additionally, employers may wish to consider implementing enhanced benefits for bereavement and other family policies. With the current recruitment market very much in favour of employees, from a purely commercial perspective, enhanced family benefits may help employers to set their company apart from the competition, retaining existing talent and attracting new talent. Moreover, taking a more holistic approach, it will have a big impact on the culture and ethos of the business and will impact staff views on their employers’ values.

If employers are unsure how to implement wider benefits or the extent of benefits they should offer, they should seek legal advice.