Parental bereavement leave is the right direction but it’s not enough

Parental bereavement leave

Our managing director Neil McLeese spoke with NewsLetter around how he believes there’s still work to be done to mitigate the challenges of grief.

Parental Bereavement Leave

Recently a bill for parental bereavement leave was passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly which provides parents with two weeks paid leave following the death of a child or stillbirth.

Although this is a step in the right direction, there is still work to be done to mitigate (as opposed to exacerbate) the challenges of grief.

From April 2022 parents in Northern Ireland will be entitled to two weeks paid parental bereavement leave following the death of a child or stillbirth in accordance with new legislation that was recently passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

A similar measure will also be introduced for those who experience a miscarriage, adding Northern Ireland to only a handful of countries in the world to have such legislation for miscarriage employment rights.

This bill means that on a statutory basis, employees who suffer the loss of a child under the age of eighteen, a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, or a miscarriage will have two weeks’ parental bereavement leave.

It is certainly great to see Northern Ireland introducing new legislation that will provide vital support to bereaved parents during an unimaginable time.

However, it begs the question – why does such legislation have to be ring-fenced around parents alone? Surely anyone who suffers a profound loss should be entitled to the same measures.

Prior to this bill, employers held the power when it came to an employee’s right to leave following a bereavement.

For many, taking time off work was simply not affordable, forcing many workers to return to their roles almost immediately and long before they were ready.

No bereavement experience is the same and for some, returning to work is part of the grieving process, providing a conduit for connecting with others and enabling them to grasp some normality amidst mass upheaval.

For others the magnitude of grief can be overwhelming, prohibiting an employee to perform as normal. Therefore, it is safe to say there can’t be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy when it comes to leave.

We have already seen a shift in parental leave patterns following the birth of a child with firms (and governments) across the world recognising the need for significant time off for both parents, as well as leave that is adaptable, depending on the needs of the caregivers.

Perhaps it is time that employers, and governments, view all leave through the same lens.

At the very basic level, firms need to acknowledge grief as a fluid state, affecting employees differently, at different times.

There needs to be support in all workplaces along with the acceptance that grief has no limits, whether that be age or time.

The muddy waters around bereavement leave has created a culture which rewards those who can be productive, despite facing a crisis, as people are forced back to work almost immediately. But this can often cause grief to manifest more intensely and over a longer period.

Firstly, firms need to assume that employees will be taking adequate time off following any loss and this should be echoed through proper government support for all employees facing a bereavement.

Grief will impact employees differently and it is vital that there is proper support and guidance available.

We can’t make assumptions of how a person will react to a loss. We certainly shouldn’t expect employees to work to the same high level following a

bereavement, instead there should be processes in place that enables them to transition through the grieving process with compassion and without fear of loss of earnings, judgement, or expectations for things to continue as they were.

So, while this new bill is commendable, there is still work to be done to mitigate the challenges of bereavement for all workers.