What Is Compassionate Leave

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It’s a sad fact of life that most people will experience the loss of someone close to them at some point during their working career.

Grief is a natural response to such an event and it affects people differently. Some of those ways it can affect you can impact your ability to do your work.

When you find yourself dealing with a loss you may need to take time away from work to grieve, organise a funeral, and sport out the estate. You have the right to take time off work to deal with these things and it’s known as compassionate leave.

Compassionate leave explained

Compassionate leave is taking time off work because something has happened in your personal life. This might be a life-threatening illness or illness of a relative or dependant, the death of a dependant or close relative, or last-minute and unavoidable childcare emergencies.

What is bereavement leave, then?

Bereavement leave is slightly different and more specifically related to the following:

  • The death of a dependant
  • The death of a child under the age of 18
  • A stillbirth after 24 weeks.

Taking time off work gives people the time and space for dealing with grief in their own way, without the responsibility of going to work every day.

An employer isn’t legally obliged to offer bereavement leave when a dependant dies, however they are obliged to give you time off after the death of a child or stillbirth. This type of leave is called Parental Bereavement Leave.

What are dependants?

You might be a little uncertain about the meaning of a dependant, so let’s explain what one is.

A dependant is anyone who depends on you for financial support. That might include:

  • A spouse or civil partner
  • An unmarried partner
  • Children or stepchildren
  • Parents or grandparents
  • A person who lives in your household
  • A person who relies on you for help in the event of an accident, illness, or injury, such as an elderly neighbour
  • A person who relies on you to make care arrangements

Dependants tend to be immediate rather than extended family, but the term applies equally to a person who has relied on you for financial support in the past 12 months. Financial support can take the form of money, but also refers to shelter, food, and clothing.

Do I get paid for compassionate leave?

An employer is not legally required to pay you during compassionate leave, however, it will depend on your employment contract and the company policy.

At the end of the day, it is down to your employer as to how much or how little they wish to pay you during your compassionate leave.

How long is compassionate leave?

There is no set time, however, on average, five days of compassionate leave are what is usually awarded. The amount of time depends on your situation.

If you want to know more details about where you stand, you must check your company’s policy and employment contract. It is usual for this type of information to be written in this documentation. Alternatively, speak directly with your employer or check your company handbook.

Can an employer refuse compassionate leave?

An employer can refuse compassionate leave, but it’s not something that happens very often. Employers are usually very understanding, even though such situations tend to be unexpected and compassionate leave has to be given at short notice.

If you are refused compassionate leave you have other options. For example, you could choose to use your holiday time or ask to take unpaid leave.

How to write a compassionate leave letter

If you want compassionate leave, it’s best to make the request formally and as soon as you can. Ideally, you should write a compassionate leave letter to your manager. This letter could be emailed, printed, or handwritten.

In your letter, you should include the following information:

  • A brief explanation of what has happened.
  • The relationship you have with the person who has died
  • Why do you need to take compassionate leave, for example, you might need to arrange a funeral, sort out finances, or because you are grieving.

You should start your letter by explaining your situation. Don’t worry about giving more details than you are comfortable sharing. However, you need to provide enough information so that your employer understands what’s happened and why you need to take time off work.

It’s also important to give your employer an idea of when you want your leave to start and when you think you’ll be able to return to work. It might also help if you can explain who will cover for you while you’re on leave. Something as simple as explaining that your team will happily cover for you should be enough.

Can I use compassionate leave for a funeral?

An employee can use compassionate leave for a funeral, but only if the person who dies is a dependant. Otherwise, you have no legal right to time off for a funeral. However, your employer might offer time off and this might be called compassionate leave or special leave.

Compassionate leave allows you to take time off work after the death or an emergency that involves one of your dependants. Whether you’re entitled to time off and whether you get paid depends on a company's compassionate leave policy and your contract. Write a formal letter requesting compassionate leave and include the important details such as why you need the time off, how long you’ll be away, and when you intend to return.

Preparing for the death of a loved one is never easy, but knowing you can take some time out from work will give you the time to grieve and make the necessary funeral arrangements.