Compassionate Leave UK: Eligibility, Requirements, and More

Compassionate Leave UK

This article will discuss the concepts of compassionate leave , exploring the different types, applicability and implementation strategies.

What is compassionate leave UK?

Compassionate leave allows employees to take time off from work to deal with an emergency, such as a personal or family illness. It can include caring for a sick family member, dealing with a death in the family, or coping with a natural disaster. It is also known as bereavement leave.

Compassionate or bereavement leave is typically unpaid, but some employers may offer compassionate leave paid in certain circumstances. This leave can also be known as carer's, family, or bereavement leave.

Talk to your employer about taking compassionate leave if you're dealing with a personal or family emergency. They will be able to tell you if you're eligible for this type of leave and how to apply for it.

How long is compassionate leave UK?

The duration of compassionate leave in the UK is not legally mandated but is typically determined by company policy or employment contract. However, there are some general guidelines:

  • For the death of a close relative: Employees are typically entitled to 3-5 days of compassionate leave if a close relative, such as a spouse, partner, child, sibling, or parent, dies.

  • For the death of a more distant relative: If a less immediate family member, such as a grandparent, grandchild, step-parent, aunt, uncle, or cousin, passes away, employees may be granted 2-3 days of compassionate leave.

  • For other emergencies involving a dependant: In cases of emergencies involving a dependant, such as a serious illness or injury, employers may grant compassionate leave on a case-by-case basis, depending on the severity of the situation and the employee's needs.

Types of compassionate leave

Depending on your circumstances, you may be entitled to a few different types of compassionate leave.

Compassionate Leave

This type of leave is typically taken when an employee experiences a death in the immediate family member or has a sick family member. This leave is usually unpaid, but some employers may also offer paid leave.

Bereavement Leave

This type of leave is taken when an employee experiences the death of a close family member, such as a spouse or parent. This leave is usually unpaid, but some employers may also offer paid leave.

Related: Bereavement Allowance: Benefits and Guidelines For Employers and Employees

Grievance Leave

This type of leave is taken when an employee has a grievance with the company, such as being the victim of harassment or discrimination. This leave allows the employee to file a complaint or take legal action against the company.

Must Reads :

What is a Workplace Grievance? A Guide for Managers
Discrimination in the Workplace: Best Preventative Practices 
How to Build a Comprehensive Anti-Harassment Policy

The law on bereavement leave in the UK

Employers in the UK are allowed to take compassionate or bereavement leaves, but the law is extremely vague regarding payment. In accordance with the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees are entitled to a "reasonable" amount of time off for emergencies.

It is not a statutory right to receive payment for bereavement leave. However, the law states that such time off will not be granted for situations that employees are aware of in advance.

If a parent loses a child (under 18) or has a stillbirth, they may be eligible for paid parental bereavement leave for two weeks following the death. 

What Is parental bereavement leave?

reasonable time

In April 2020, the UK introduced a legal entitlement for parental bereavement leave. Stillbirth or death of a child is the reason for the introduction of this leave.

The parents of a deceased child or a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy are legally entitled to two weeks of bereavement leave if the child died before 18 years of age. Furthermore, this leave does not require notice within 56 weeks after death.

There is also the option of taking two separate weeks of leave instead of two consecutive weeks. During Parental Bereavement Leave, parents who have worked for their employers for at least 26 weeks will receive Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay (SPBP). In addition to SPBP, employees receive 90% of their average earnings or £151.90 per week.

Compassionate leave for family emergencies

According the UK government, employees may take time off for emergencies involving dependents as part of the first policy. UK, a dependent relies on you for care, such as a spouse, a partner, a child, a grandchild, or a parent. A reasonable amount of time must be allowed for leave, but no particular amount is recommended, allocated, or required.

Although there are no limits to how often employees may take time off for dependants, employers are not required to pay these compassionate leaves.

The employee cannot take this type of leave if the situation is known ahead of time. For example, compassionate leave is unavailable if an employee needs to attend a hospital appointment. Parental leave is another option that may be available to employees. As a result, the employer is free to allow the absence and pay for it.

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Why do employers need a compassionate leave policy? 

compassionate leave policy

Compassionate leave is an employer's means of responding to an employee's devastating loss. The company expresses empathy for grieving employees and understands they need time to deal with difficult feelings and process their grief.

Company cultures have a great effect on a company's success, and business owners are increasingly doing their part to adjust their company's culture. Business owners are increasingly aware of the importance of balancing work and private lives and how strong relationships can increase employee engagement and productivity. 

Can an employer refuse compassionate leave?

In the United Kingdom, compassionate leave entitlement does not exist. Employers don't have to grant compassionate leave if it's requested. If your company policy says employees can take compassionate leave under certain circumstances, you might need to honour it, depending on the contract.

Employers can refuse compassionate leave if the contract says it's a discretionary right. In case the right is contractual. However, the company may deny the request if it complies with policy conditions.

The refusal of compassionate leave by an employee could lead to a dispute over a breach of employment contract, even though compassionate leave is not a legal entitlement. Bereavement leave, as well as dependent leave, are both statutory entitlements.

An employer must allow an employee to take time off when dealing with a critical emergency involving a dependent or when a child dies. Unpaid compassionate leave, annual leave, or the ability to make up the time later are all options you can use if you can't offer paid compassionate leave to your employees. 

How to implement a compassionate leave policy?

extended family member


A bereavement leave policy should be included in the employee handbook. Employees facing bereavement will know what to expect and avoid awkward conversations. Furthermore, managers will be aware of any bereavement policies and won't have to make difficult decisions on leaving.

Managers should be able to handle requests for extra time off sensitively if a bereavement leave policy incorporates an element of flexibility. The workplace should offer various options for employees to cope effectively with their grief and return to work after a loss. Not everyone grieves the same way, so options should be available to employees.

A personal approach and working with bereaved employees to agree on the best plan are essential. It would help if you also had the option of reducing your hours or phasing back your work schedule and some paid time off.

General bereavement leave amounts depend on the relationship between the employee and the deceased, with an immediate family eligible for the full amount. But losing a friend or an animal can be just as devastating.

Employers who are trying to strike the right balance may find this challenging. That is why they need to have a certain level of flexibility to handle each case uniquely.

Compassionate leave in the UK typically lasts three to five days when a close relative dies (spousal, civil partner, partner, sibling, child), 2-3 days if the relationship is less close (grandparents, grandchildren, step-parents), and one day if an in-law, aunt, uncle, or cousin passes away. Deaths in the family may involve travel, dealing with affairs, funeral arrangements, and attending the funeral itself.

Companies need to consider how stingy compassionate leave impacts long-term commitments and productivity. Employees and employers should approach the situation in a balanced, supportive, and flexible manner. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • For the purposes of compassionate leave, immediate family typically includes:

    • Spouse or civil partner
    • Partner (unmarried or civil partnership)
    • Child (under the age of 18 or 23 if in full-time education)
    • Parent
    • Sibling
  • Compassionate leave is typically unpaid, unless an employer has a specific policy that provides for paid compassionate leave. However, some employers may offer a discretionary payment to employees who take compassionate leave, particularly in cases of bereavement.

    Employers' responsibilities regarding compassionate leave

    Employers should have a clear and well-communicated policy on compassionate leave, outlining the eligibility criteria, duration, and pay arrangements. They should also be sensitive to the needs of employees who are dealing with a bereavement or other family emergency and should allow them to take the time off they need to cope with the situation.

    By understanding the guidelines for compassionate leave in the UK and developing a compassionate leave policy, employers can support their employees during difficult times and uphold a supportive workplace culture.

Absence Management
Topic: Leave
Carin Vreede

Written by:

Carin Vreede

With years of experience in the HR field, Carin has a lot of experience with HR processes. As a content marketer, she translates this knowledge into engaging and informative content that helps companies optimize their HR processes and motivate and develop their employees.


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