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On 7 February 2022, the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill was passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly and is soon to receive Royal Assent. This important piece of legislation will afford statutory leave and pay to parents who are suffering from the loss of a child under 18 or a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Although many employers would offer compassionate leave to employees suffering such bereavement, there is currently no statutory requirement for employers to grant leave or pay under these circumstances. Therefore, this legislation is a vital mechanism of support for parents who face such a tragedy.
From 6 April 2022, eligible employees who have suffered the loss of a child will be entitled to two weeks’ parental bereavement leave and pay at a minimum statutory rate. The period of leave must be made available for a minimum of 56 days after the child’s death and may be taken consecutively, or as two separate weeks.
Furthermore, employees will also be protected from any adverse treatment from their employer for availing of this right. This legislation not only aligns Northern Ireland’s law on parental bereavement leave with the rest of the UK, but it also goes further, to include a provision in future for parents who have suffered a miscarriage prior to 24 weeks of pregnancy. This could make Northern Ireland the first jurisdiction in Europe to offer such support to employees. A public consultation is to be held in relation to miscarriage leave prior to the 24th week of pregnancy and pay and subsequent regulations will be made to allow this provision to take effect by no later than 6 April 2026.
Employees shall be eligible for parental bereavement leave from the first day of their employment if they fall under the definition of a bereaved parent. The legislation stipulates that a “bereaved parent” shall be construed as an employee who satisfies “specified conditions as to their relationship with a child who has died.”
These conditions are to be defined within the regulations to be provided by the Department for the Economy and shall be framed, in whole or in part, by reference to the employee’s care of the child before the child’s death. Therefore, it is likely that biological parents, adoptive parents and those who were providing day-to-day ongoing care for a child in a permanent capacity at the time of the child’s death shall be included within the definition of a bereaved parent.
When the legislation first takes effect, an employee must have been employed continuously for 26 weeks prior to the death of their child before they are eligible for parental bereavement pay. Employees shall be required to provide confirmation of their eligibility in writing by way of self-declaration to their employer.
However, from 6 April 2026 this pre-requisite shall be eliminated and employees will be entitled to parental bereavement pay from the first day of their employment. They must be employed on the day on which the child dies and they must meet the weekly earnings threshold which shall be adjusted each year. It is likely that the NI regulations will align with the weekly earnings threshold for the rest of the UK which is currently £120 and will be based on the employee’s weekly earnings for an eight-week period either before or after the child’s death.
It is likely that employees in Northern Ireland will be entitled to the same minimum statutory pay as is set in the rest of the UK, which is currently the lower of either £151.97 a week or 90% of their average weekly earnings.
This legislation is also a positive development for employers, as it provides clarity and allows businesses to apply a consistent approach as to how they navigate such a sensitive issue. Employers will also be able to claim back at least 92% of all statutory payments they make to bereaved parents from HMRC.
It is important for businesses to ensure that their workplace policies are updated in accordance with these important changes in the law. For employers who already have a parental bereavement policy in place, or a compassionate leave policy which refers to parental bereavement leave, these policies should be reviewed and updated accordingly.
If you require any advice in respect of the changes to the law in relation to parental bereavement leave, or have any other employment law related query, do not hesitate to contact a member of the experienced Employment team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin.
This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor.