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Blog • 08.10.18

Compassionate Leave: advice for employers

Laura R
HR Consultant Team Manager

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In the UK there is no current legal requirement for employers to offer compassionate leave to staff who’ve suffered a bereavement. However, having a clear compassionate leave policy in place can bring many benefits, both for managers and their teams.

How a compassionate leave policy can help

  • A clear and transparent policy helps you to position yourself as a supportive employer from the outset, helping to improve relationships with employees.
  • Even if a member of staff never needs to request time off for a bereavement or to attend a funeral, just knowing you’re willing to help support them as an employer sends a reassuring message.
  • With no clear laws in place, allocating time off is at your discretion. At a time when emotions will be heightened, a policy helps you to manage compassionate leave requests objectively, and exercise fairness towards all your staff.
  • A policy will help you remain consistent in your treatment of all staff. If you’re inconsistent in your approach to offering compassionate leave, an employee may be able to raise a grievance against you.
  • Having a policy in place can help reduce any additional stress a bereaved member of staff might experience around requesting time off; the more friction you can alleviate for them at this difficult time the better.

Leave and pay

While there’s no legal obligation to pay staff on compassionate leave, employers often choose to offer an element of paid time off within their compassionate leave policies. Just knowing the support is there will help you to position yourself as a caring employer.

What the law says about bereavement

While employers are not obliged to offer compassionate leave, employment law does require employers to grant employees a reasonable period of unpaid time off to deal with the emergency of a deceased dependant – a spouse, partner, child, parent or individual cared for by the employee.

This only relates to accommodating the ‘emergency’ component of the situation, for example making funeral arrangements. Above and beyond the practical, making more compassionate allowances that account for the inevitable emotional strain on the individual, falls to the employer’s discretion.

It’s an incredibly tough decision to make, especially in small businesses where absence can have a huge impact on business performance. It’s important not to underestimate the value of being prepared.

When an employee requests compassionate leave: things to consider as an employer

If an employee feels pressured to return to work too soon after a bereavement, or struggles to reach previous levels of performance while grieving, they may be at risk of stress and subsequent periods of sick leave.

It’s also important to be sensitive to the wishes of the employee when communicating with other employees or third parties about the reason for their absence.

Future changes to the law around compassionate leave

In September 2018, a law was passed entitling parents who lose a child under 18 to 2 weeks’ paid leave. The law is expected to come into force in 2020.

Support managing compassionate leave

If you’re the owner of a small business without in-house HR support, knowing how to manage compassionate leave sensitively and objectively can be challenging. As can supporting an employee experiencing a bereavement.

The content of this blog is for general information only. Please don’t rely on it as legal or other professional advice as that is not what we intend. You can find more detail on this in our Terms of Website Use. If you require professional advice, please get in touch.

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