Health and WellbeingWork after death: What Jack’s Law means for HR leaders in the UK

Work after death: What Jack's Law means for HR leaders in the UK

Dr. Emma Day-Duro examines the impact of Jack's Law and what HR leaders must do to ensure their employees are looked after in times of bereavement.

By Dr. Emma Day-Duro, Senior Qualitative Research Specialist, Hult Ashridge Executive Education


In April 2020, Jack’s Law will come into force, mandating two weeks paid bereavement leave for parents who suffer the death of a child under 18 years old in the UK.  As it stands, there is no statutory leave entitlement for parental bereavement, and decisions about what time is appropriate to take off are left largely up to the individual manager. Often managers are forced to rely on the platitude ‘take all the time you need’. While this is a nice sentiment, in reality it is rarely possible, and leaves both the employer and the employee knowing they need to reach out, neither sure when it is appropriate or necessary to do so.

The new law provides some structure, allowing mutually recognised time away whilst also marking a timepoint to connect and discuss how best to move forward, be that establishing a return date, negotiating a phased return or further leave.

While a significant step in the right direction, the new law does, however, highlight some issues which warrant discussion.

Firstly, it’s crucial that managers don’t see this two week entitlement as an indictment that parental bereavement is managed and controlled in this time. Instead managers should continue to practice compassion and understanding, using this leave entitlement as a base line from which each case can be managed individually.

Often the practical arrangements following a death take up considerably more time than anticipated, for many, redirecting the emotional impact in the immediate days and weeks. It is unreasonable to expect that 14 days is enough time for parents to adapt to the ‘new normal’ after the death of their child.

Secondly, the new law only includes parents who have lost a child under 18 years of age. Meaning, a parent who loses a child in their 20’s or 30’s will not be entitled to the same time off to grieve. For parents who lose an older child, their grief may be further complicated by the fact that their child has left behind children of their own. Parents could be called on to support their child’s family practically and emotionally and deserve their loss to be recognised as equivalent to those who lose younger children.

As I’m sure most parents would agree, there isn’t a cut off age where the death of a child becomes less traumatic, and it’s important that managers and colleagues appreciate this, even while the law does not. Moving forward, Jack’s Law should include those who suffer a close bereavement of any kind, ensuring there isn’t some unspoken hierarchy of grief.

At Hult Ashridge, we are conducting a research study, ‘Work After Death’, which aims to collate the stories of bereaved parents, and organisations who have employed those who have been bereaved. By speaking to parents and employers who have direct experience of managing bereavement at work, we hope to offer a comprehensive picture of what each party needs in practice, basing recommendations in evidence rather than generic platitudes.

What our research is finding, and what many others have found, is that child bereavement is incredibly complex, and grief doesn’t come all at once and then disappear or dissipate. Some parents may appear to cope well initially and feel the need to throw themselves back into work, only to struggle later down the line at an anniversary or birthday.

Support and understanding in the immediate aftermath and the years that follow is crucial. This speaks to a larger problem that many bereaved parents face when they return to work – people don’t know how to support them. Death in general, but particularly the death of a child, is so rarely discussed that people are deeply uncomfortable broaching the topic. Parents have told us stories about returning to work and facing a room full of colleagues acting as if nothing had happened, or all too often avoiding them completely. While they were entirely understanding of this response, it left them feeling isolated and uncomfortable.

It’s important that conversations around death are normalised so people who have been bereaved aren’t further impacted by society’s discomfort. Several organisations offer company-wide bereavement training. Investing in something like this allows whole organisations to open the dialogue around death and prevents bereaved people returning to work and facing even more isolation and sadness.

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