It is a sad reality that many people will lose a loved one at some point during their working life.
Despite this, compassionate leave is rarely subject to the same intense scrutiny by employees as other workplace entitlements, such as holiday pay or parental leave.
However, losing a person close to you is one of life’s most traumatic experiences and knowing what you can expect from your employer if you are bereaved can make an extremely difficult time a little bit easier.
What Is Compassionate Leave?
Compassionate leave, or bereavement leave, is time off given to employees who are bereaved. The time is intended for them to grieve, make funeral arrangements, attend the funeral of their loved one and carry out any other responsibilities related to death, such as probate.
What Does the Law Class as a Dependent?
When looking at compassionate leave, employment law classes an independent as a spouse, partner, child, parent or someone who depends on you for care. As many people will have experienced, extended family such as grandparents, aunties and uncles are not classed as dependents, and you may not be granted compassionate leave in the event of bereavement.
However, in reality, assuming you were able to give sufficient notice for a funeral, then the majority of employers will be appreciative of your situation.
Do You Have a Right to Compassionate Leave?
Remarkably, there is no statutory requirement for compassionate leave in the UK. This means that there is no minimum amount of time that employers must give to allow their employees to grieve after losing a loved one.
What the law does say is that employers must offer a ‘reasonable’ amount of time for employees to cope with emergencies involving their dependents. The government defines dependents as someone who depends on you for care and could include a spouse, partner, child, parent or grandparent.
Beyond this vague and limited guidance, the rest is up to employers. Fortunately, as many as three-quarters of employers make some allowances for compassionate leave in workers’ contracts. If your employer has a policy on compassionate leave or has mentioned an allowance in your contract, they have a responsibility to honour this commitment.
However, if your employer has not made a special provision for bereavements, whether or not you are granted compassionate leave is really at their discretion.
Will I Need to Take Use My Holidays if Not Entitled to Compassionate Leave?
Unfortunately, if for some reason your employer is not able to offer you compassionate leave in the event of an accident or bereavement, you may need to take time off as a holiday.
While the vast majority of employers would look to accommodate those seeking compassionate leave/short notice holidays, these are not always possible. On occasion, you may be able to come to an arrangement with your employer where you pre-warn them you may need time off, but this can be difficult to plan.
What Notice Is Required for Parental Bereavement Leave?
If you’re looking to take parental bereavement leave within 56 days of the date of your child’s death, then the notice period is minimal. Ideally, you should inform your employer before your start time on the day you want your parental bereavement leave to begin – but in the midst of grief, this would be the last thing on your mind.
When looking to take parental bereavement leave more than 56 days after the death of your child, you will need to give your employer notice of seven days.
In reality, there are very few employers who would stand in the way of immediate leave in the event of a death in the family. They would obviously expect to be kept up-to-date with your plans for returning to work, but other than that you will find that employers do have a heart. Their legal and moral obligations are often very different.
Bereaved Parents of Children
The law is more generous towards parents or carers dealing with the death of a child or stillborn. Employees can take up to two weeks’ paid parental bereavement leave if a child under their care dies or if a foetus is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Biological and adoptive parents qualify for bereavement leave, as do long-term, live-in partners of a child’s biological parents, care-givers who lived with a child for at least four weeks before their death and ‘intended parents’, who expected to become parents through surrogacy.
How Long Is Compassionate Leave?
There is no statutory requirement for compassionate leave in the UK, meaning that there is no minimum amount of time of an employer must give to a grieving employee.
The one exception is in the case of bereaved parents of children or stillborn babies, who are entitled to up to two week’s paid bereavement leave.
Is Compassionate Leave Paid?
There is no automatic entitlement to compassionate leave under UK law, so your right to paid leave- or indeed any leave- on compassionate grounds depends on your work contract.
According to a survey by XpertHR, where there is a relevant bereavement policy in place, leave is paid 60% of the time. Smaller companies are, on average, more likely to offer paid compassionate leave than larger companies.
Bereavement Leave Laws Around the World
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What Are My Options if My Employer Won’t Give Me Compassionate Leave?
If your employer is not open to the idea of compassionate leave, you may be forced to consider other options. Even if your employer is willing to grant you leave, you may find that you need more time than your contract allows for to deal with your grief and the responsibilities that come with handling the death of a person close to you.
Losing a loved one can be incredibly hard and take a serious toll on mental and physical well-being. If you’re not ready to return to work at the end of your compassionate leave period or need more time than your employer can offer, you could consider tapping into your holiday allowance.
Although this is not an ideal situation, it could be better for your well-being, in the long run, to take extra time off while you are in the early stages of grief. If you have no holiday allowance left, you may even consider applying for unpaid leave, if this is something you can afford to do.
If you find that you are totally unable to take off the time you need, you might have to look for other ways to try and cope. If you are in need of help, you could try contacting your local council: all councils across the UK keep a directory of bereavement services (run by other organisations), which provide social, emotional, mental health and financial support for people dealing with loss.
Can I Still Take Maternity Leave if My Child Has Died or Been Stillborn?
Legally you are still entitled to take maternity leave even if your child has died or been stillborn. The vast majority of employers would be extremely sensitive in such a scenario and may even be able to offer support services.
The grieving period for individuals can vary enormously, and unfortunately on some occasions, the bereaved may not be able to return to work.
Is My Employer Obliged to Provide Support Services?
While all employers have a legal obligation to ensure the welfare of their employees, this legal obligation does not necessarily extend to issues outside of the workplace. However, what you will find today is that more and more employers are offering support services to their employees as a means of assisting them in difficult times.
On the flip side of the coin, if an employee is receiving support, then they are likely to return to work much quicker than if left on their own.
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