Compassionate leave and bereavement leave

Employer guide to compassionate leave and bereavement leave and pay

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Monday, Apr 08, 2024

As an employer in the UK, you understand that a productive and engaged workforce is crucial to the success of your business. However, life often presents challenges and tragedies that can affect your employees' wellbeing and their ability to perform at their best.

When these circumstances arise the best way to support your team is often to give them time off work. Giving them this space doesn’t just take the daily stress of their workload off their plate, it also allows them to be there for their loved ones and take solace in their support system.

This type of time off work is referred to as either compassionate leave or bereavement leave.

Understanding compassionate leave and bereavement leave is essential for creating a supportive workplace where employees feel valued and cared for during difficult times.

In this article, we will explore the importance of compassionate leave and bereavement leave and provide guidance on how to handle them effectively.

2 people holding hands after a recent bereavement and needing Compassionate leave

Understanding compassionate leave and bereavement leave

Compassionate leave and bereavement leave are often interchangeable. Both are designed to accommodate employees facing personal crises or emergencies—such as the illness or death of a close family member or close friend—but they're not actually the same thing.

Bereavement leave is a leave allowance that’s used specifically when an employee takes time off after the death of a loved one.

Compassionate leave, on the other hand, refers to time off to deal with difficult or distressing situations. Such as a serious illness or injury of a loved one or if there is a flood or fire at their home.

Despite this distinction, there isn't a statutory right to compassionate, or bereavement leave in the UK.

However, there is a legal right for employees to receive parental bereavement leave, if they are eligible, following their child's death under the age of 18. And they have the legal right to take time off to look after a dependant, such as an immediate family member, or a person who relies on them, like an elderly neighbour.

Although you have no legal obligation to provide your employees with compassionate or bereavement leave, doing so can make all the difference. Not just to their productivity but also to your employee’s long-term loyalty.

Offering this leave allowance is a valuable way to show your employees that you value them, you care for their wellbeing, and that you encourage a better work-life balance.

The law on compassionate or bereavement leave

While the UK does not mandate specific compassionate or bereavement leave whether that be paid time or unpaid, it's essential to be aware of relevant legal considerations to ensure compliance with employment laws and regulations:

Employment Rights Act 1996

The Employment Rights Act 1996 provides the legal framework for time off for dependants in the UK.

It grants employees the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with certain situations affecting their dependants, this could include looking after a sick relative or injured family member and disruption of care arrangements.

Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018

Bereavement leave following the death of a child under the age of 18, or in the case of a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy is called parental bereavement leave.

Any employee whose child dies is entitled to take up to two weeks leave and statutory parental bereavement pay if they’re eligible.

It's important to note that parental bereavement leave is distinct from other forms of leave, such as annual leave or compassionate leave. It's a specific legal entitlement aimed at providing support to parents who have suffered the loss of a child.

A person being comforted at work after coming back from Compassionate leave

Discrimination Laws

Employers must ensure that their compassionate and bereavement leave and pay policies do not discriminate against any employee based on protected characteristics such as age, sex, race, religion, or disability.

Fair and equal treatment is essential to avoid discrimination and legal complications.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

Employees may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they are unable to work due to their own illness or injury. Employers should be aware of the SSP regulations and sick leave and how they relate to compassionate leave. Employees may have different entitlements depending on their circumstances.

Compassionate leave and pay

When employees face urgent and unforeseen situations, such as a family member’s serious illness or an unexpected immediate family crisis and need time off, this is called compassionate leave.

Here are some key questions to consider when implementing a compassionate leave policy in your business:

Who is eligible for compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave should be available to all employees, regardless of their length of service, as it relates to emergencies involving personal circumstances, but it's up to you as the employer to decide.

What is the duration of compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave is typically granted for a short duration, such as 1-3 days, although it can be extended based on personal circumstances. Ensure that your compassionate leave policy specifies the maximum duration allowed and whether it can be extended.

Is compassionate leave paid leave?

While there is no statutory requirement to provide paid leave, many employers choose to offer some paid time to support their employees during difficult times.

Be clear about your company's policy regarding pay during compassionate leave in your employment contracts or policies.

How should employees notify their managers when they need compassionate leave?

Employees should inform their line manager or HR department as soon as possible when they need to request compassionate leave.

Encourage open communication and understanding within your team to address the situation promptly.

What documentation should employees provide?

You may request documentation to verify the need for compassionate leave, but be sensitive to the employee's circumstances, as it may not be appropriate to ask for verification.

What should my confidentiality policy be?

You need to comply with GDPR data protection legislation. So, it’s best to agree with your employee what information needs to be shared where possible to respect the privacy and confidentiality of your employee's situation.

A bench sitting empty due to a bereavement

Bereavement Leave and pay

Bereavement leave is specific to the loss of a family member, loved one or someone close to your employee and is aimed at allowing employees time to grieve and handle practical matters.

Consider these questions when implementing a bereavement policy:

Who is eligible for bereavement leave?

All employees should have the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work for bereavement purposes. However, as there is no legal obligation it's ultimately your decision on who is eligible.

How long should bereavement leave be?

There is no fixed duration for bereavement leave under UK law and it's your decision to make. However, it's important to remember that everyone deals with death differently and some employees may need more time than others.

So, it might be best to decide on the amount of time they can take on a case-by-case basis.

Should bereavement leave be paid leave or unpaid leave?

Bereavement leave is typically unpaid leave unless you specify in your bereavement policy that you offer paid bereavement leave.

It's important to ensure that your policy is clearly communicated to all employees whether you offer paid leave or unpaid leave.

How should employees notify their managers when they need bereavement leave?

Again, it's up to you to choose how and when your employees should inform you need for bereavement leave. Just remember to be compassionate and flexible in accommodating their requests.

How to offer support for employees on bereavement leave?

You should always offer support and resources to employees dealing with grief, this should be during the time they’re on leave and after—when they return to work.

Giving them access to counselling services or employee assistance programmes, will help with their mental health and show them you care.

The importance of creating compassionate leave and bereavement leave policies

Compassionate leave and bereavement leave policies are a reflection of your company's values and commitment to supporting your employees during some of life's most challenging moments.

It's also important to acknowledge that grieving in any circumstance is not a straightforward linear process and can affect people in different ways and at various times after a loss. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

These policies show that you care about your employees' wellbeing, not just their productivity. By providing this support, you can build trust, loyalty, and a positive employer-employee relationship.

Having these policies readily available for your employee’s reference also lets them know what they’re entitled to, and how they can ask for support. The last thing you want to do when your employee is going through a tough time is to add to their stress.

Policies will help your staff feel free to ask for support and help when they need it the most.

Compassionate leave and bereavement leave policies

Now that we've established the importance of these policies, let's explore the practical steps for their effective implementation within your organisation:

Step 1 - Develop clear and comprehensive policies

Creating well-defined compassionate leave and bereavement policies is the first step towards providing the necessary support to your employees.

These policies should include detailed information about eligibility, how much time off you allow, notification procedures, whether its paid bereavement leave or unpaid leave and any additional support or resources your company offers during these challenging times.

Step 2 - Communicate the policies effectively

Simply having policies in place is not enough; you must ensure that all employees are aware of them.

You should incorporate these policies into your employee handbooks and regularly remind your staff about the existence of these policies through internal communications, such as emails, posters, or company announcements.

Step 3 - Show compassion and flexibility

When an employee requests compassionate or bereavement leave, approach the situation with empathy and understanding. Remember every situation is different and you should handle them on a case-by-case basis.

Encourage employees to take the time they need to cope with their circumstances and avoid pressuring them to return to work prematurely. Showing compassion in times of need can build trust and strengthen your employer-employee relationship.

Step 4 - Respect confidentiality:

Maintaining confidentiality regarding the employee's situation is paramount. While a line manager or HR may need to be informed about the leave request, share information only on a need-to-know basis, and obtain the employee's consent before discussing their circumstances with others.

This helps preserve the employee's privacy and dignity during a challenging time.

Step 5 - Provide additional support:

Consider going beyond the standard leave policy by offering additional resources and support to employees dealing with grief or personal crises.

This could include access to counselling services, information on local bereavement support groups, or an employee assistance program. Providing such resources demonstrates your commitment to your employees' well-being.

Step 6 - Flexible return-to-work plans:

Discuss with employees when and how they plan to return to work after their compassionate or bereavement leave.

Be flexible in accommodating their needs, as some employees may require a gradual return to full work duties. An open dialogue can help ensure a smooth transition back to the workplace.

A person returning to work after coming back from Compassionate leave

Compassionate and bereavement leave FAQ

When it comes to compassionate, bereavement, or parental bereavement leave and pay there are many questions that you may have.

Here's a list of questions most employers ask:

Is bereavement leave only in relation to immediate family members?

It doesn't have to be, but it's typically used to deal with the bereavement of close or immediate family. You don't need to accept requests for bereavement leave if you don't want to, but you should be consistent and act in line with your bereavement policy. You should also speak with your employees if you have any concerns about them taking time off.

Can I refuse a request for compassionate leave?

Yes, you don't have to allow it if you don't want to but check your policy or your normal rules to make sure you are being consistent with other employees in the same situation and are treating all your employees in the same way.

How much is parental bereavement pay?

From 6th April 2024, the rate of parental bereavement pay is £184.03 per week or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is lower, increasing from £172.48.

What is a dependant?

A dependant is an employee's spouse, partner, or civil partner, child, parent, family, a person who lives in their house (but not a tenant, lodger, or employee) a person who relies on them for help in the event of an accident, illness, or injury - such as an elderly neighbour or a person who relies on them to make care arrangements.

Does parental bereavement leave cover miscarriage?

Parental bereavement leave can be taken by employees - both mother and father and their partners - if they have a baby who is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy. It can also be taken when an employee's child, who is under the age of 18 dies. They also only have the legal right to two weeks of parental bereavement leave.

But it doesn't apply where there is a miscarriage before 24 weeks of pregnancy. In this case, if the employer does not have any contractual entitlements to time off, paid, or unpaid, then time off will be taken as sick leave or annual leave.

Not found an answer to your question, ask BrightLightning to get a quick and legally compliant answer in seconds.

A person placing flowers on a grave due to a recent bereavement

How BrightHR helps you support your employees

Compassionate leave and bereavement leave are essential components of a compassionate and supportive workplace.

Implementing clear policies, communicating them effectively, and showing empathy toward your employees during difficult times and with sensitive issues like the death of a loved one can help maintain a positive work environment while supporting your team in their moments of need.

Getting your HR documentation right

You can find hundreds of expertly written HR documents with BrightBase, an exclusive library of document templates, covering a wide range of HR and people management topics.

From policies to employment contracts and handbooks to factsheets, all are available to download and customise to suit your business needs.

Staying on top of your legal obligations

Remember to stay updated on UK employment laws to ensure compliance with current regulations.

BrightHR offers a direct line to employment law specialists who are available 24/7 and ready with helpful advice to deal with any queries you may have.

Support your team’s mental health with the UK’s leading EAP

BrightHR's Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) brings your staff a wealth of wellbeing services to support them through life’s challenges.

It's also the UK's leading EAP by Health Assured and is the ONLY BACP-accredited EAP provider at the organisational level in the UK.

Interested in learning more book your free demo today.

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