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Departmental Response to Consultation on Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay

Members may recall that we sought views on the proposal to introduce legislation in Northern Ireland proving the right to paid time off following the death of a child. The Department has now been published its Response and as we expected the intention is to introduce the same entitlement to Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay for Northern Ireland employees to that is presently afforded to employees in Great Britain.

The full Departmental Response can be viewed here

Of note, the Department’s Response states was unanimity of purpose that employees in Northern Ireland deserve the same right to Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay as that afforded to employees across the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Department has stated that they will push ahead with securing the progression of Northern Ireland Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay legislation with a minimum of delay. Our views is that such legislation introduced by April 2021.

Disappointingly the Department did not provide any response to its final question on the Consultation Document that sought views on the strategic direction of employment law in Northern Ireland.

A few key points:

  1. The definition of bereaved parent will mirror that within the corresponding GB legislation and will include those parents who experience the loss of a child through stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The Department resisted calls for the right to be extended to grandparents and parents that lose a child over 18 years.

  1. The GB Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay legislation allows bereaved parents to choose to take up to 2 weeks leave either consecutively or non-consecutively in weekly blocks. The Department confirmed that it is their intention to make the same provision for bereaved parents in Northern Ireland.
  1. When considering the appropriate Leave Window the Department agreed with GB that the provision for a two-week block or two discontinuous weeks of leave across a 56-week period maximised the benefit for bereaved parents. The Department intends to replicate GB provisions and legislate for a 56-week period during which parental bereavement leave can be taken. 
  1. The Department intends to follow the GB legislation in respect of Notice Periods. Accordingly, for leave taken shortly after the death of a child, there will still be a requirement for notice to be given. However, in recognition of the impact that such a loss might have in preventing notice being given during the earlier period the legislation will provide for this notice to be given as soon as is practicable following the death if unable to be given prior to the absence.

For leave taken at a later date, for example on a particular anniversary or birthday, a short notice period of one week will be required to will fairly balance the needs of bereaved parents with those of employers.

  1. The notice for leave will take the form of a self-declaration with an acknowledgement of entitlement and the Response states “it will be recognised as such by employers.” Whilst the Department does not intend to have an evidential requirement for entitlement to parental bereavement leave, there will be a requirement for evidence of entitlement to parental bereavement pay.
  1. The Department will also follow GB in the level of the statutory pay as they believe it is important to maintain an alignment with existing family related statutory pay provisions. The Department states that disparities between employees in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom should be kept to a minimum whenever possible. In addition making a change to the amount payable would also result in a delay to the introduction of this new statutory right, which they want to avoid. The statutory payment for this provision will therefore be paid in line with other statutory payments, which presently is the lower of either £151.20 or 90% of an employee’s average weekly earnings. 
  1. Again, in line with the GB provisions, there will be a requirement for those wishing to avail of parental bereavement pay to notify their employer in writing within 28 days of the commencement of any associated leave. The Department believes this will ensure that employees can commence a parental bereavement leave and pay period in the immediate aftermath of the death of their child without first having to give notice to their employer if it has not been practicable to do so.
  1. There will be a light-touch requirement for evidence of entitlement – to be given in writing but limited to a declaration of entitlement by way of relationship with the child, the name of the person claiming the payment and the date of their child’s death.

A Template policy on this will be published once the Department has finalised the Regulations.