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Compassionate Leave – Managing For Workplace Employees

managing compassionate leave

Compassionate Leave – Managing For Workplace Employees

Within every organisation, employees have a legal right to time off in emergency situations relating to dependants. Most employers would allow reasonable compassionate leave to employees although the term itself can be open to interpretation. Guidelines set by the business will determine what this will consist of and what employees will be entitled to in these situations.

In this article, we will look at the current regulations around what employers are required to provide as well as reviewing the ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) guidelines to help provide the tools to create a bereavement policy that is suitable for both you the employer, and employee.

What Is Bereavement Leave?

So, what does bereavement leave mean? Although sometimes referred to as compassionate leave it is slightly different and unfortunately, is something most employees will experience in their working lives.

Bereavement leave is entitlement to time off when the death is related to a dependant. It is sometimes referred to as compassionate leave as usually employers would support the employee with their loss by offering paid or unpaid leave even if it’s not related to a dependent.

Is There A Legal Right To Compassionate Leave?

As compassionate and bereavement leave are not seen as a benefit to the employee, the regulations around what employers are required to provide differs from other benefits such as annual leave or sick days.

Compassionate leave can cover a wider range of issues other than just death of a dependant and because of this, it is important for employers to correctly determine what support they will offer under these circumstances.

Regulations specify that employers are required by law to allow an employee the right to reasonably deal with an emergency.

The definition of a dependant is either a civil partner, child, grandchild, parent or someone living in the same residence as the employee immediately before their death. This is outlined by the Employment Rights Act 1996.

For those circumstances where the emergency or death is not of a dependant, most employers would approve leave for employees by following the company policy on compassionate leave.

ACAS Guidance On Compassionate Leave

Government organisation ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provides free and impartial advice on managing employee employment rights including sections on compassionate and bereavement policy requirements.

Even though ACAS is a government organisation, and it’s prudent to follow the advice provided, it is seen as industry best practice as opposed to legally binding rules.

This guidance by ACAS is to offer a reasonable amount of paid leave – usually 2 to 3 days – after the death of a close friend or relative. Each circumstance will need to be treated separately to understand what will be considered ‘reasonable’.

ACAS recommends that as part of the bereavement policy, employers offer additional support in the way of flexible working patterns, counselling or further paid or unpaid leave.

How Much Time Should Be Given For Compassionate Leave?

The main question when considering compassionate leave is, how much is enough?

There is no set amount of time detailed in the regulations which determine how much leave should be given in the event of a dependent death (excluding children). It only states that employees should be given a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off to grieve.

For dependent deaths which relate to children, classed as those stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy or those under 18, employees are legally entitled to two weeks paid bereavement leave. In this time, the employees will receive statutory Parental Bereavement Pay which is paid weekly. The sum currently is £156.66.

For non-dependent related deaths, employers have no legal obligation to provide any compassionate or bereavement leave, however, many organisations will support their employees by offering some sort of leave to allow them to grieve their loss.

When an employee faces an emergency, it can be difficult to know exactly how much compassionate leave to offer. In the majority of cases, employers and employees will communicate regularly to determine how they are feeling and when it might be best to return to work.

All cases should be evaluated on an individual basis as each person’s needs and job requirements will differ. For employers, the most important aspect should be to support their employee’s well being and help with the return-to-work process.

Looking after an employee’s wellbeing during the bereavement process is extremely important. Employers need to work closely with employees to ensure they only return to work when they are comfortable, as bringing them back too soon could lead to further time off through stress and anxiety or be detrimental to the business if mistakes are made within the operation. It’s likely employees will remember this support and subsequently show more loyalty to the business.

The Importance Of Having A Bereavement Policy

As noted above, leave requested by an employee if they suffer loss of a dependant, or an emergency issue is better known as compassionate, or bereavement leave.

A clear compassionate and bereavement leave policy is important to set the guidelines for how your organisation will support the employee. This allows for a standardised process where all employees will be entitled to the same rights and support, even if each case may be dealt with slightly differently.

The compassionate and bereavement policies should clearly set out what support the employer will provide. This should clearly define scenarios where employee can request leave, how much leave employee is entitled to and whether this will be paid or unpaid

What To Do If You Don’t Have A Bereavement Policy

If your company does not have a defined bereavement policy, it will need to consider each case on an individual basis. As there won’t be standardised company guidelines, employers should follow ACAS best practice advice to ensure support is sufficient for their employees.

Communicating with employees to explain what options they are entitled to and how the employer can provide this support is important. It includes:

  • Details on entitlements for bereavement
  • How long this type of leave is available for
  • Clear instruction on whether leave will be paid or unpaid

If there is no bereavement policy available, employees may have other options in taking time off but still receiving full pay. Most companies have a sick leave policy which could be offered as an alternative to bereavement leave.

Depending on the company policy and to remain on full pay the employees may choose to use some of their annual holiday entitlement.

If there is no compassionate or bereavement policy in place, then it’s important that each case is dealt with in a consistent manner. Where possible, the same steps should be followed as much as possible in determining what support should be provided while being aware that each case has its own complexities.

Looking at any previous employee requests of similar circumstances can also provide a guide as to what should be offered.

How To Write A Bereavement Policy

It’s important when creating a bereavement policy that the needs of the employee are met while also considering the needs of the business. Some things to consider when doing this are:

  • How many days of paid leave does your business want to offer? ACAS guidelines recommend 2-3
  • Will the employee be entitled to leave that is unpaid and for how long?
  • Is the business willing to offer further support such as flexible home working or counselling?
  • The eligibility criteria to qualify for bereavement leave
  • Will evidence be required from employees to evidence they meet the criteria for bereavement leave?

The answers to these questions will help define your bereavement policy. The language within the policy should be succinct and contain details of other services provided, like counselling, and how to access.

Can An Employer Refuse Compassionate Leave?

An employer may choose to refuse compassionate, or bereavement leave if the person who died or has an emergency issue is not a dependent of the employee.

Employees are legally entitled to compassionate, or bereavement leave if the person is a dependent but how much bereavement leave offered will be specific to each company policy and some companies can extend this leave into multiple weeks. Even if no specific bereavement policy is in place, the employer cannot refuse a request for time off from an employee to attend the funeral of a dependent.

Although there is no set number of days that need to be offered for bereavement leave in relation to a dependant, where that dependant is under the age of 18, the employee is legally entitled to two weeks leave and cannot be refused. This is known as Parental bereavement leave and is required to be offered by law.

The employer does have the right to refuse any bereavement leave if the person who died is not a dependent. There are no regulations in place that state the employer must approve leave if the person who died is a close friend or relative for example. It is at the employer’s discretion whether they will approve the request and would likely be determined by business needs at the time.

How Long Is Reasonable For Bereavement Leave?

It can be difficult to put a timeframe on the length of bereavement leave required. Each person is different and as a result, the length of bereavement leave needed by each employee will vary.

Except for the death of a child under 18 or stillbirth after 24 weeks – there are no regulations which determine exactly how much leave should be offered to an employee.

Most employers will provide on average at least 5 days of paid leave as part of the bereavement process but this can vary between organisations. Employers are best communicating with employees to understand their needs and understand how they can best support them.

Remember – providing sufficient time for the employee to process their grief will support their wellbeing and allow them to perform duties to the best of their abilities when they return. If they return too soon while still grieving, it may result in poor performance which can cause further stress and anxiety to the employee.

Do I Have To Pay Staff For Compassionate Leave?

If staff take bereavement leave, do you still need to pay them in full? Well, the answer depends on whether the death is related to a child of the dependent who is under 18 or if it’s a stillbirth after 24 weeks. In both circumstances, two weeks full pay is a legal requirement that the employer needs to provide.

This is known as Parental Bereavement Pay and an employee is currently entitled to £156.66 per week.

Should the death not be an employee’s child, then any payment made during the bereavement leave is at the employer’s discretion and not legally required.

When creating your bereavement policy, it should be a fair and consistent process for all and it should be clear to employees how much leave they are entitled to and of what type, paid or unpaid.

In Summary

Compassionate leave and bereavement leave are similar in the way that it is a legal entitlement to help dependents in emergency situations. Compassionate leave covers a range of issues whereas bereavement leave is usually specifically to attend a funeral or grieve. Each employee will deal with grief differently and some may want to get back to work as quickly as possible, whereas others may require the maximum time available.

Compassionate and bereavement leave policies can be difficult to implement efficiently in the workplace, but it is essential to show your employees that you will support them in the event of a death or emergency. In having clear guidelines, it helps maintain a fair and consistent process for the employee suffering an emergency or bereavement.



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