Compassionate Leave

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Health Assured team

13 October 2021

Unfortunately, many employees will deal with some death or loss during their employment with you. When this happens, it's good to be sensitive to your employee’s needs. They are likely to need time to recover from the situation. 

In the UK, employees may need to take time off to make funeral arrangements and grieve the loss of their loved one. This guide will look at the restrictions and laws around compassionate leave from an employer perspective. We’ll cover what compassionate leave is, how long employees can get and laws around the leave in the UK. 

What is compassionate leave?  

When an employee needs to attend to an urgent issue in their personal life, they may request time off work. This is sometimes called compassionate leave or bereavement leave in the UK—depending on the kind of emergency it is. 

Employers aren’t legally required to offer employees compassionate or bereavement leave from work. But they may allow employees to take compassionate leave in emergency situations like the examples below: 

  • Injury, illness or assault. The illness doesn’t have to be life-threatening—it could be a mental or physical problem. 
  • Having a baby. If an employee’s dependant goes into labour unexpectedly, they can take time off to help them. The employee won’t be able to take time off to help after the birth, but they may receive paternity leave.
  • Disruption of care arrangements. Employees could get time off if their care plans for a dependent fall through or change unexpectedly. 
  • An incident involving a child during school time. If an employee’s child needs urgent help with an injury or problem. 

However, note that this list isn’t exhaustive. It often comes down to the employer’s discretion. Dependents can include a child, spouse, partner, parent, grandchild, or someone who depends on you for care. 

What is bereavement leave? 

Bereavement leave is when an employee takes time off work to deal with the loss of a dependent. They may need time off to arrange funeral plans, spend time with other family members or grieve the loss of a loved one. 

As an employer, you aren’t legally required to offer employees bereavement leave in the UK. Employees don’t have any legal rights for compassionate leave either. But you may wish to offer this leave if employees request it.

Dealing with loss can have a significant impact on employee wellbeing. This may hinder performance and affect other employees around them. So, it’s wise to be sensitive to their needs during this time. 

However you decide to handle bereavement and compassionate leave in your organisation, you must treat all employees equally by law. So, it’s a good idea to have a policy in place that clarifies employee leave entitlement under these circumstances. 

Parental bereavement leave

If the bereavement involves the death of an employee’s child, employers must offer statutory parental bereavement leave by law. Employees will receive this leave if:

  • Their child dies before they turn 18.
  • They have a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

Employers must offer employees two weeks leave. The leave must start after the death or stillbirth and must finish within 56 weeks of the death or stillbirth. Employees may take the leave as two weeks together, or separately. The employee may also only take one week’s leave if they prefer. 

You must pay employees parental bereavement leave. Employees get either £151.97 a week or 90% of their average weekly earnings—whichever is lower.

Do you get paid for compassionate leave?

There is no legal entitlement for employees to receive pay for bereavement or compassionate leave in the UK. It’s at the employer’s discretion whether they choose to do so. Employers can choose to offer employees paid compassionate leave. How much you offer is completely up to you. But again, to avoid claims of discrimination, you should outline this in your policy. 

How long is compassionate leave in the UK?

How much bereavement leave or compassionate leave you offer employees is up to you. There are no limits to how long compassionate leave can last in the UK. If you think the time off might be affecting the employee’s performance at work, you might want to talk to them and see what you can do to help. 

The time employees need to deal with the emergency may vary. If it’s a death, employees may need to take compassionate leave to arrange and attend a funeral. For a child suspended from school, they may need to take compassionate leave to go and pick them up and take care of them for the rest of the day. Remember that there are no laws around compassionate leave in the UK. It’s up to you to decide how long you choose to give employees off work. 


Employers must not discriminate against employees for taking compassionate or bereavement leave. This includes: 

  • Treating employees unfairly for taking time off for dependents.
  • Dismissing employees or choosing them for redundancy because they asked for time off.
  • Refusing to allow employees reasonable time off in emergencies. 
  • Refusing to offer employees training or promotions because they have taken time off to look after dependents.

Health Assured can help you provide emotional support to your staff

Emergencies and bereavement can be difficult and emotionally draining. It can make it hard for employees to keep on top of their work-life balance. It can also be the trigger for short or long-term sickness absence. 

Our Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) can provide specialised counselling for your staff to support them through these difficult times. Our 24/7 helpline is open 365 days a year; with multi-lingual support and fully trained counsellors.

Want to find out more? Book a free consultation with one of our wellbeing consultants. Call 0844 891 0353 for help supporting your staff through difficult times.

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