Compassionate Leave: What It Is & How To Manage It

Manager Reviewing Compassionate Leave Request


Managing employees involves much more than just allocating resources to tasks. Each member of your team is a unique individual with their own lives outside the workplace and, unfortunately, this means that they may suffer a bereavement or emergency while working for you. Whatever the size of your company, it’s important to have a compassionate leave policy in place. 

Compassionate leave helps to support employees’ mental health and show that you value and respect them as individuals. It’s also an essential part of absence management, tracking absences and annual leave to monitor patterns and ensure that employees are receiving the help they need. 

In this article, we’re going to answer common questions about compassionate leave, including what it is, how much compassionate leave employees are entitled to, and how to support employees during a difficult time.

What is compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave is a type of unplanned time off from work that an employee takes due to a bereavement or emergency. Examples include the death of a loved one, caring for a family member who has fallen ill, or being the victim of a crime. It gives employees time to deal with the situation without worrying about attending work. 

Is there a difference between compassionate leave and bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave is a specific type of compassionate leave. While the two are very similar, bereavement leave only refers to taking time off due to the death of a loved one or family member. Compassionate leave can be taken for a variety of reasons, including an emergency involving those close to the employee, or caring for a sick relative.

Examples of situations that qualify for compassionate leave

There are many different situations that could qualify for taking compassionate leave. Some common compassionate leave examples include dealing with the death of someone close, receiving a serious or terminal medical diagnosis, taking time off to attend a funeral, caring for a family member who has been injured or fallen ill, or dealing with the aftermath of a crime or domestic emergency. 

Which situations a company chooses to include in its compassionate leave policy are at their own discretion. Some may only cover attending a funeral for an immediate family member as being eligible for compassionate leave, with other instances requiring holiday leave.  

However, as employers come to better understand the importance of a healthy work-life balance and supporting their employees’ mental wellbeing, many are choosing to offer more flexible compassionate leave, including pet bereavement leave.

Why is it important for employers to offer compassionate leave?

Offering compassionate leave for bereavement and other sensitive situations is important to support employees’ mental and emotional wellbeing. It gives them the time they need to make any necessary arrangements and process what has happened without worrying about their job. During difficult times, people often struggle to focus, so attending work could be detrimental to their performance as well as to their mental and emotional wellbeing. 

Taking compassionate leave allows employees to: 

  • Take time to grieve 
  • Make arrangements to deal with the situation 
  • Attend a funeral service 
  • Process what’s happened and take care of their mental health
  • Focus on a healthy work-life balance

Understanding the laws and regulations surrounding compassionate leave

While there isn’t specific law for compassionate leave in the UK, anyone classed as an employee has the right to take time off from work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant. A dependant is defined as a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent or other person who depends on you for their care. This is for unexpected situations and doesn’t apply to those that an employee knew about beforehand, such as taking their child to a hospital appointment. 

From a legal perspective, there’s no limit to how much time an employee can take off for dependants. However, employers may need to discuss alternative solutions such as remote working if they think the amount of leave for dependents is affecting performance.

Is compassionate leave paid?

In the UK, there’s no legal right for employees to receive payment during compassionate leave. This means that it’s up to the employer to decide whether to offer paid compassionate leave. They might also choose to offer an initial period of paid days, followed by a set number of unpaid days. Whatever their policy, any organisation should clearly outline their compassionate leave policy in their employee contract, including which situations are eligible.

6 tips for creating a compassionate leave policy

The requirements of each company and its specific roles will be different, and a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always work when creating a policy for compassionate leave. It’s important to remember why the policy is in place, and to make sure that it provides adequate support for your team members during a difficult time. 

When creating your company’s compassionate leave policy, make sure to: 

  1. Include as a bare minimum: which situations are covered, how much compassionate leave is granted for each, and whether it is paid or unpaid 
  2. Ensure that the policy states the employees’ legal rights 
  3. Explain the process employees need to take to alert their line manager of their need to take compassionate leave 
  4. Allow for a certain amount of flexibility to support the unique needs of each employee
  5. Ensure that the policy is easy to read and understand, and readily accessible to all employees
  6. Provide training for line managers to make sure the policy is applied correctly and compassionately

Bereavement leave policy examples

As an employer, you can decide how much compassionate leave for bereavement to offer your employees. Co-Op allows around 10 days bereavement leave, as well as having separate policies for parents who lose a child under 18 or experience pregnancy loss. In 2017, Facebook doubled their bereavement leave allowance from 10 days to 20, which sparked debate on social media about whether it was too generous.

How to support employees through compassionate leave

Good employers offer compassionate leave, but great employers provide genuine care and support both during the employee’s time off and once they return to work. While they’re away, avoid contacting them for any work-related reasons that aren’t directly related to their compassionate leave and, if possible, try to arrange cover to minimise stress upon their return. 

After a period of compassionate leave, it’s important to make sure your employees are adequately supported and ready to come back. This might include booking regular one-to-one meetings to check in with them and discuss any necessary support, offering a phased return to work plan, and generally being more considerate and understanding of any minor mistakes immediately following their return. 

There are a variety of HR software solutions available to help employers to better look after their employees and their wellbeing. In particular, absence management software makes it easy to manage different kinds of employee leave, from unplanned absences such as bereavement leave to annual leave and sick leave. It also helps managers to guide employees through the return-to-work procedure to ensure that they are safe and ready to return to work. 

Take advantage of a free trial of PeopleHR’s absence management software, part of a wider HR system, and see how it can help you to better support your employees during difficult times. 

Sheldon Walker
By Sheldon Walker New Business Sales Representative

Sheldon is a New Business Sales professional with Access PeopleHR. He is dedicated to helping SMBs thrive in today's competitive landscape. With over 5 years of experience in SAAS and HR software products, he has provided numerous clients with the tools to make their life easier. Sheldon's passions lie in helping clients achieve their goals and giving them the freedom to do more.