Paternity leave for bereaved partners bill passed into law

The Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Act 2024 has been passed into law to give working fathers and non-birthing partners automatic rights to immediate paternity leave if the mother dies.

The Act, which received Royal Assent on the last day of the current Parliament on Friday 24 May, ensures that bereaved fathers or non-birthing partners will automatically get the right to day-one paternity leave if the mother, or a person with whom a child is placed or expected to be placed for adoption, dies.

The change in law was initiated by Aaron Horsey who found that, after his wife Bernadette died in childbirth in 2022, he did not have the automatic right to paternity or parental leave because he had worked for his employer for less than nine months.

Horsey began a two-year campaign for a change in the law when his son was just a few weeks old. 

At the second reading in the House of Lords on 17 May, Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent, who sponsored the bill, said: “Just, for one second, imagine the horror. A mother dies in childbirth. Her partner is left alone with a newborn. I cannot imagine the grief and fear of the new parent, who is now facing the daunting prospect of sole responsibility for a tiny human…

“Everything takes time and work is the last thing on your mind, until you realise that, because you started the new job within the last four months, you do not have the right to enhanced paternity leave you would have had, had you not taken that job. Therefore, rather than having up to a year to get yourself straight, you have a matter of days, and those are at the discretion of your boss.

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“This is not a time when someone needs their employer’s discretion. It is not a time when you want to think about anything other than getting through the day. This is a time when you need to fall back on a legal safety net, to know that you can take the time to focus on rebuilding your shattered life.

“[The bill] will provide these individuals with the support and protection they need during one of the darkest periods of their lives. Moreover, even parents who do meet the continuity of service requirement to qualify for statutory paternity leave may not have access to a sufficient period to care for their child. Parents in this situation would still be reliant on the good will of their employer to take any additional time off work. The bill will also close this gap in the legislation for all employed parents who have lost their partner around childbirth or adoption and moved employer in the months before the birth.”