Navigating Compassionate Leave: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Utilising This Workplace Benefit
In the UK, employees are entitled to time off work when grieving a family member or friend. This is called compassionate leave or bereavement leave. Employees can take time off work if someone close to them dies, including making funeral arrangements and attending the service. This is known as bereavement leave or special paid leave. Compassionate leave, also known as bereavement or family leave, is typically granted to employees who need time off from work to deal with a personal or family crisis, such as a close family member’s death or severe illness. The entitlements can vary depending on the employer’s policies and local labour laws. Generally, immediate family members, like parents, spouses, children, and sometimes close relatives, may be covered.
What is a Dependant?
In the context of compassionate leave, a dependant is someone the employee cares for or relies on for support. This could be a:
- parent or
The person may be ill or have been injured. They don’t necessarily need to be severe or life-threatening, but they should have a condition that requires care and attention. The person doesn’t necessarily need to live with the employee, but they should meet several tests, including providing more than half of the other person’s financial support.
Employers need to have a clear policy on how they will support employees dealing with a family emergency or bereavement. This can be as simple as outlining the different types of leave and how they are applied. Many organisations also provide training to help managers demonstrate empathy and manage the situation effectively.
Some of the more common forms of leave are bereavement, maternity and paternity, family, and sick leave. In 2020, the UK passed Jack’s Law granting two weeks of statutory bereavement leave for working parents who have suffered the loss of a child under the age of 18. This can be taken in a block or split up across an annual leave year and covers stillbirths and miscarriages as well.
|What Can You Take Compassionate Leave For?
|Illness, injury or assault
This includes mental or physical illnesses that do not have to be life-threatening
|Having a baby
You are entitled to take time off if a dependant goes into labour unexpectedly and they rely on you to take them to the hospital.
|Disruption of care arrangements
a nursing home or nursery closes unexpectedly
a child minder or carer does not turn up to look after a dependant
If your child is involved in an incident during school time
What Counts as an Emergency?
Employees have their own lives outside of work, and, sadly, they may find themselves amid an emergency involving a dependant. Companies need to have a compassionate leave policy in place so that employees know their options when the worst happens. It also helps to show that the company cares about its employees and understands they have family responsibilities.
Generally speaking, an emergency is defined as something that could not have been foreseen, such as a death in the immediate family or a childcare crisis. It can also include serious illness of a close relative, a traumatic event or being the victim of crime.
It’s important to note that compassionate leave is different from bereavement leave, with the former being used to deal with a death and the latter being used to cope with an ongoing medical issue. You should be clear about the difference between the two in your employee contracts or handbook.
As you can see, there is no statutory entitlement to time off for dependants, but it’s a good idea for organisations to have a policy to help their staff. They can then be confident that they can take the necessary time off. This type of leave doesn’t necessarily have to be paid either – some employers decide not to pay their employees when they’re on leave.
How Much Time Can I Take Off?
In the UK, most companies offer employees at least some paid time off when dealing with an emergency involving a dependant. It’s best to check out your company policy and employment contract to see how much you are entitled to or to speak with your manager directly.
While compassionate leave is most often taken in response to the death of a close relative, it can also be used for other emergencies involving dependents. These may include caring for an ill or injured family member, providing support for a friend facing a significant life event like having children, and even for traumatic situations like being a victim of crime.
You aren’t legally required to grant this type of leave as an employer – but many do. If you need more time to ask, speak with your manager or HR representative and be honest about the situation. They will likely appreciate your honesty and be more understanding in this sensitive circumstance.
The terms bereavement and compassionate leave are often conflated, but they are different things. Bereavement leave is specifically about taking time off when someone dies, while compassionate leave is broader and can be used for any situation affecting a dependent. Whether you call it bereavement or compassionate leave, providing your employees with the time off they need and deserve when dealing with an emotional emergency is essential.
Can My Employer Refuse Compassionate Leave?
Most people will have to cope with the death of a loved one at some point during their working lives, and it is fitting that they should be given time off work to grieve and manage the bereavement-related issues that arise. However, employers must be sensitive to the fact that everyone reacts differently, and requests for compassionate leave should be treated individually.
It is not legally mandatory for UK businesses to grant paid leave, but many do, so it’s worth checking the employee’s contract or organisation’s policy. It’s also a good idea to communicate the policy clearly and discuss it with employees so that they know how to approach the situation.
Employers can also consider adding additional resources for employees facing a personal crisis or bereaved. This could include information on local bereavement support groups or an employee assistance programme. This will show the company’s commitment to employee wellbeing and encourage an open dialogue around difficult circumstances.
A compassionate and supportive workplace culture is essential for boosting productivity, morale and engagement. By creating clear policies, communicating them effectively and being flexible regarding bereavement, compassionate leave and other types of leave, companies can ensure that their employees are supported in a way that best suits them.
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