Compassionate Leave

Caragh Bailey
5 min read
Compassionate Leave from Employment Law Friend

Having an unforeseen family emergency, or losing a loved one can be a deeply stressful and upsetting time, especially if you are having to work. Below we explore the option of compassionate leave.

What is compassionate leave and am I legally entitled to it?

Compassion defined; ‘To recognise the suffering of others and then take action to help.’

Compassionate leave is the time you are allowed off which is granted by your employer in response to an unforeseen emergency. It requires the employer to show compassion and empathy towards the situation.

These unforeseen or unfortunate circumstances may include:
  • An emergency which involves an immediate family member or a dependant, also known as dependency leave. According to this could be a partner, child, parent or grandchild. Anyone that might depend on you for care, such as an elderly neighbour who’s primary care giver is unavailable.
  • A family bereavement.

Compassionate leave: emergency time off for dependants

As an employee, you are entitled to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid time off if you need to deal with an emergency involving a dependant or family member. The ‘reasonable’ amount of time off should be decided between you and your employer.

Unfortunately there is no legal obligation from the employer to grant you paid time off for compassionate leave for a depandant. However it may be worth consulting your contract of employment as some employers may grant paid compassionate leave for family emergencies.
An example of compassionate leave due to an emergency would be; if your child is involved in an accident at school and you must take time off to take them to hospital and to care for them during the following days of the accident.

The ‘reasonable’ amount off time off will depend on the severity of the incident and the individual circumstance. Your employer may then ask you to take annual leave, or parental leave should you wish to look after your child for a longer period of time.

Compassionate leave: bereavement leave

Bereavement leave is time off given by employers to allow you time to grieve, and to process the death of a loved one. It could be to make arrangements for, or to attend a funeral. It is usually granted for the death of immediate family members, but dependent on your employers’ policy or your responsibility in the funeral, it could extend to more distant relatives or even friends. In most cases your employer should grant you between three and five days of compassionate leave in the case of a bereavement, however it depends on your employers’ discretion or the policy stated in your employment contract.

Bereavement leave
Apart from the parental bereavement leave policy, there are currently no UK laws which oblige employers to grant leave, even unpaid, for a death in the family.

Under the parental bereavement leave policy and statutory parental bereavement pay act, parents who lose a child under the age of 18, or who suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy are legally entitled to two weeks paid leave.

Notifying your employer
If you have to take time off for a dependant or a bereavement then these circumstances are unforeseen emergencies. You are not expected to provide advance notice, however you must tell your employer about your absence as soon as possible, including the reason for absence, and the time period that you expect to be away from work.
For example: If your parent has a heart attack on Monday, but you are not due into work until Wednesday, you should notify your employer on Monday if you are likely to be absent on Wednesday.

What if my employer doesn’t let me take time off for a dependant?

You have a legal right to take unpaid time off to care for a dependant. Should your employer deny you time off to care for a dependant, you could consider raising a grievance, or in certain circumstances you may have the right to make a claim to an employment tribunal.

Frequently Asked Questions
Your employer isn’t under legal obligation to pay you whilst on compassionate leave. Allowing the time off, and paying for it are at your employer’s discretion. In the circumstance that you may not be paid for this time off, you may be able to use your annual leave or parental leave entitlement. If your contract allows for paid compassionate leave and your employer refuses, you may be able to sue for breach of contract.
Although there is no legal entitlement to paid compassionate leave, it is rare that unpaid compassionate leave would be refused. You are legally entitled to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with emergencies involving your dependants. Your employer can’t penalise you for taking this leave as long as the reason is genuine, however they may take disciplinary action against you for taking unapproved compassionate leave for someone who is not a partner, child, parent or grandparent, or other person dependent on you for care, such as an elderly neighbour whose primary caregiver is unavailable.
It’s at the discretion of your employer to decide how long you can be given for compassionate leave, unless it is stated in your employment contract, although between two and five days are common dependent on the circumstance. If you don’t feel ready to return to work after your compassionate leave then it may be possible to use your annual leave to extend your absence.
In extreme cases, a doctor may sign you off of work for stress. You may find this article helpful. disability discrimination
The number of times you can take leave to care for a dependant is not limited.

Have you been refused compassionate leave against the terms of your contract?
There is much more to winning your case than simply being in the right, our specialist employment solicitors know all the laws and tactics, to make sure you get the best chance at a fair settlement. Get in contact with us and see how we can help.

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This content is provided free of charge for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. No responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by any member of our company. For employment law advice please get in contact and speak to your employment law solicitors.
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