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Important developments for families as the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) bill becomes law

I was pleased to read last week that the much campaigned for Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill has become law. However, this was something I, along with many others, had simply assumed was in place like statutory sick pay or holiday entitlement.

We all hope that this is not an issue that we would ever have to consider but the sad truth is that stillbirths and child deaths do happen. If it did happen to me, the last thing that I would want to be concerned about is how much this would cost me in lost earnings and holiday pay.

It was often unseen consequence of this tragedy that families struggling with the stillbirth or death of a child were not entitled to any paid leave. This means that while having to cope with the emotional impact of such a life-changing event, parents were having to return to work earlier than they should because of fears of lost income. As a result of this bill employed parents from April 2020 will be entitled to two weeks’ paid leave after a stillbirth or child death.

It is especially important that this bill includes those families who suffer a stillbirth. Under several legislations currently in force the stillbirth of a child is not given the same importance as the death of a child after birth. This distinction causes families who have suffered stillbirths to feel as though they are not entitled to their loss, that they are not able to grieve as parents because their child passed away before she was born. By notably including stillbirths in the bill it has acknowledged that the parents of stillborn children are parents regardless of the fact that their children were not born alive. This is a vital step to getting rid of this distinction altogether – although this will be a long way off yet.

Having dealt with a significant number of cases involving stillbirth and neonatal death, I have seen the impact this has on not just parents but the family as a whole. Parents need time to process the loss of their child before returning to the workplace. I have seen instances where going back to work too soon after a tragedy can have a detrimental impact on the mental health and psychological wellbeing of parents and how this can affect the entire family.

The finer details of how this will be put into practice are yet to be agreed. Currently there is no provision for the self-employed, and it is yet to be established whether there is a particular time-frame in which the leave can be taken. Each family is different and for some returning to work early can be a welcome distraction but these families need to be supported if the full impact of what happened doesn’t become evident until weeks or months after the event.

In my view two weeks is still a very short period of time, and the implementation deadline of 2020 does not help those families who are suffering now but it is an important step to take the pressure of parents when the unthinkable occurs.



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