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Andrew Arkley|January 16, 2023

Compassionate Leave UK: Everything You Need To Know

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If you’re looking to find out more about the rules on compassionate leave in the UK, we can outline the main points for you in this article.

However, there are some factors that are decided by individual companies, based on their own HR policies.

According to HR professional body CIPD, 40% of employers offer staff 3-5 days of paid leave and 12% provide two weeks. However, 14% only offer 1-2 days, so there is a lot of variation.

We’ll explain which aspects are determined by UK law, as well as the considerations that are at each employer’s discretion.

For employees, it’s important to know your main rights around compassionate leave in the UK, including your right to take time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependent.

This guide lets you know what to expect from your employer as standard and the things to clarify with them.

What is compassionate leave?

The first thing you should know is that there are different types of compassionate leave – meaning that sometimes, the term itself is not used correctly.

‘Compassionate leave’ and ‘bereavement leave’ are often used interchangeably, but they have separate definitions:

  • Compassionate leave: Absence from work due to a death or serious illness of a loved one, a childcare emergency and other similar circumstances
  • Bereavement leave: Absence from work due to a death of a loved one

Sometimes, ‘grievance leave’ is also used interchangeably with the terms compassionate or bereavement leave.

More broadly, the term ‘special leave’ applies to any reason for an employee’s absence other than contractual annual leave. This could also include an unexpected domestic emergency, or a situation where the employee or an immediate family member is a victim of a crime.

Taking compassionate leave in the UK

Compassionate leave is a way to set aside responsibilities at work while you take time off to grieve.

In the UK, as an employee you are entitled to take time off work for an emergency involving a dependent. An emergency cannot be a situation you knew about previously.

A dependent is a spouse, partner, grandparent, parent, child, grandchild – or anyone who depends on you for care.

As of 2020, employees who are parents are legally entitled to time off called parental bereavement leave. Statutory parental bereavement leave is time off work if a child dies before the age of 18, or in the event of a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. The regulations are also known as Jack’s Law. These are named after Jack Herd, whose mother Lucy had campaigned for new legislation since 2010.

How long is compassionate leave in the UK?

There is no set amount of time for compassionate leave in the UK. However, it must be a ‘reasonable’ length.

That’s according to the Employment Rights Act 1996. Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, staff are entitled to reasonable time off after the death of a spouse, child or parent.

As mentioned, four in ten employers provide their staff with 3-5 days off, including compassionate leave pay. While some offer less, many offer more. 

While it is at the employer’s discretion, most companies want to give their staff enough time to recover emotionally and make the necessary arrangements before returning to work.

Is compassionate leave paid?

It is not required for an employer to pay, but many companies have a compassionate leave policy in place stipulating that they will give their staff paid time off.

An exception to this is for parental bereavement leave – employers must give their staff at least two weeks’ time off and statutory pay. 

To be eligible for this leave and pay, the employee must have worked at the company for at least 26 weeks. There are also some other eligibility requirements.

Statutory parental bereavement pay counts as whichever is lower:

  • 90% of your average weekly wages
  • £156.66 a week

There is a set process to follow when claiming statutory pay.

Your rights during compassionate leave

While there are no set amounts of time or pay for compassionate leave in general, you are entitled to fair treatment from your employer.

When taking time off for dependants, no employer can:

  • Select you for redundancy or dismiss you due to your time off
  • Treat you unfairly due to your time off e.g. refuse you a promotion
  • Deny you ‘reasonable’ time off

If you think this has happened, your options include seeking further advice – or potentially taking your case to an employment tribunal.

Summary: compassionate leave in the UK

There is no set period of time for compassionate leave in the UK, but employees are due their employer’s interpretation of reasonable time off.

Many companies also pay staff during this time. Also, under the recently introduced parental bereavement leave law, eligible employees are entitled to statutory pay.

We hope this guide has answered some of your questions about compassionate leave in the UK. 

However, to understand more specific details, it’s always a good idea to speak to your HR or management team about your workplace’s policies. Alternatively if you would like to know more about unpaid leave, here is a quick guide.

We’ve also written recently about the rules on taking sick days at work in the UK.

If you work remotely, here is some useful information about working from home tax relief.

Also, learn about other types of leave granted to UK employees, such as garden leave and sabbatical leave. If you’d like to discuss anything further, or you’re looking to take the next step in your career, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team.

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