Compassionate Leave

Get a free consultation

Health Assured team

13 October 2021

When dealing with bereavement or ill-health in the family, it can bring life to a grinding halt.

To make sense of these situations, employees may ask for leave on compassionate grounds. Here, you’ll be able to support them through difficult times and allow them to regain order to their circumstances.

If you neglect compassionate leave, you could lose the respect and trust of your staff–resulting in them leaving for good.

In this guide, we’ll look at what compassionate leave is, how it’s different to bereavement leave, and ways to support employees during difficult times.

What is compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave is when an employee takes time off work due to an upsetting, personal situation.

They take time off to deal with an unexpected or sudden problem involving a loved one. The most common reasons for taking compassionate leave include:

  • Grieving after a family member dies.
  • Helping someone with a serious illness.
  • Having been a victim of a crime.
  • Having been involved in a traumatic incident.

(Employees use compassionate leave to deal with personal situations).

Why is compassionate leave important?

For many employers, dealing with compassionate leave might seem like a complicated or daunting thing. However, it’s important to provide some form of leave–within the right context.

Firstly, you need to remember that employees are not solely employees. They have responsibilities and duties outside for the workplace. And contrary to belief, these might trump work-related ones.

It would be extremely unethical and uncaring to deny an employee compassionate leave. The leave period allows them to make sense of unexpected disruption–without worrying about their job commitments.

Reasons for taking compassionate leave can literally shake up the very foundations of a person’s life. An immediate family member might pass away without warning. Or their child falls ill and needs to be taken to the hospital.

Whatever their situation is, it’s important to help employees deal with an emergency involving a sick relative. In the end, you might not know what they're fully experiencing. But you also don’t want them to become so affected that they can’t work anymore.

UK law on compassionate leave

In the UK, there is no specific employment law on compassionate leave entitlement

However, under the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees have a legal right to ‘take a reasonable amount of time off’ for dependants. This can include:

  • A spouse.
  • A civil partner.
  • A parent.
  • A child.
  • An extended family member.
  • A close acquaintance.

(Employees can legally ‘take a reasonable amount of time off’ for dependants).

How long is compassionate leave for?

Because there’s no law on compassionate leave in the UK, there’s no legal length for it. But the law does mention it should be within a reasonable time.

On average, many businesses offer five days leave for compassionate reasons. But this will depend on individual situations.

To outline a suitable leave period, you need to look at three key factors:

  1. Personal aspect: This revolves around the nature of the relationship between the employee and the dependant.
  2. Financial aspect: This determines whether the employee will be affected by taking paid time off or accepting unpaid leave.
  3. Operational aspect: This involves managing business production in the absence of the employee.

Think about all three factors for every individual situation. Remember, not every employee will require the full length of time off or support.

Is compassionate leave paid?

You are not legally required to provide compassionate leave pay. You would only provide paid time off if it’s included in an employment contract. Or if it’s in your company policies which all parties acknowledge and agree to.

Alternatively, you may want to pay employees and offer paid compassionate leave. For example, an employee may need to make funeral arrangements or other arrangements for their family. So having financial paid leave would be useful for them.

Whatever you decide, make sure your rules are clear and available to all employees.

(You are not legally required to provide compassionate leave pay).

Is compassionate leave different to bereavement leave?

Yes, compassionate leave is different to bereavement leave in so many ways. The main difference is that bereavement leave usually revolves around death.

An employee might take bereavement leave because of:

  • The death of an immediate family member, close relation, or dependant.
  • The death of a child under the age of 18.
  • A stillbirth after a 24-week pregnancy.

Compassionate leave can also be used in these cases too. However, it’s advisable to use bereavement leave specifically when a family member or dependant dies.

What is parental bereavement leave?

In some cases, an employee may request leave after their child dies. This type of leave is called parental bereavement leave.

They may take also take this form of leave after suffering from a miscarriage (after 24 weeks) or a stillbirth.

Employees have a legal entitlement of two weeks' parental bereavement leave if:

  1. A child passes away before the age of 18.
  2. A stillbirth occurs after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

This leave can be taken within 56 weeks of the death, without prior notice needed. Employees can either take two weeks altogether or choose separate weeks.

If an employee has less than 26 weeks of continuous service, they have a statutory right of two weeks’ unpaid leave. But if this counts as parental bereavement leave, you need to provide all entitlements outlined in their employment contract.

How to support employees during compassionate leave

Most businesses won’t consider compassionate leave within policies or procedures. However, it’s advisable to have rules relating specifically to it. Keep it separate from your bereavement and other leave practices. Remember, these types of reasons occur when you least expect it.

Here are some things to consider when supporting employees during compassionate leave:

Requesting compassionate leave

When an employee requests time off for compassionate leave, they should be able to do it without worries or hesitance. Ideally, they should ask  in a formal manner, as early as possible.

Employees should request time off through a letter which includes:

  • An explanation of what has happened.
  • The relationship between them and the person in question.
  • The reasons for needing compassionate leave.
  • Proposed leave and return dates.

Creating a compassionate leave policy

People will face different emergencies involving all sorts of issues. And they’ll have varying reasons for taking time off for dependants.

So, create a compassionate leave policy which outlines standard rules for taking this form of leave.

It’s also advisable to highlight your legal entitlement to adapt the length of time off; and how much paid compassionate leave will be given. But at the same time, avoid treating anyone unjustly or unfavourably. Or else, you could end up facing discrimination claims raised against you.

Dealing with individual cases

Once you’ve set the rules, deal with employees on individual levels and apply the best action.

Maybe you’ve decided not to accept their request for leave. Here, you can suggest using annual leave instead or taking unpaid time off. But clarify that there is no connection between taking leave and their job position.

Providing emotional support

These sorts of situations can be difficult for most of us to process. So, try to be empathetic and offer emotional support.

Talk to them about their situation. Some people might find solace in working through grief. Others might find it difficult to concentrate at work. So, determine what method the employee would like to follow and provide help along the way.

You can also offer grievance counselling or therapy referrals to further support them during sensitive times.  

Get expert guidance on compassionate leave with Health Assured

Whatever an employee requests compassionate or bereavement leave, you have a moral and legal obligation to prioritise their needs.

These types of situations are difficult enough, without having to worry about pressures from their job. So, protect their wellbeing and health first, and your business will be protected in the long run.

If you fail to provide leave, you could face discrimination claims and reputational damages.

Health Assured offers expert guidance on dealing with compassionate leave. Our teams can help you safeguard employee wellbeing whilst simultaneously meeting your company needs.

We also provide a 24/7 helpline that’s open 365 days a year–helping employers and their business all year round. Arrange a call back from an expert today on 0800 206 2532.

Make your enquiry

Please complete the form below and we'll be in touch to answer your enquiry

Book a place on this workshop

Get a free consultation

Please complete the form and we'll be in touch to schedule your free consultation

An error occurred

We appologise but an error has occurred submitting your form. Please try again.

Mindful Employer
Stonewall Diversity Champion
Disability Confident Employer
bacp Accredited Service
International EAP Association
National Suicide Prevention Alliance
The Workplace Wellbeing Charter
Mental Health at Work
Cyber Essentials Plus
Investors in People Silver 2022
Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse
The Prince's Responsible Business Network
SEQOHS Accredited
helplines partnership