Compassionate leave & bereavement leave in the UK

Updated: Nov 16


When planning for employee leave, it’s easy to overlook unplanned time away from work. We don’t blame you, why would you take this into consideration? However, in reality, employees in the U.K. do have a statutory right to take time off in the case of an emergency involving dependents. This is what is known as compassionate leave.



As such, it’s important that UK employers take the time to solidify their frameworks for when and if employees need to take time off for dependents and include this properly in your employment contracts. This article provides a comprehensive guide to compassionate leave in the UK, outlining employee’s key rights and what you need to know.


What is compassionate leave?


Compassionate leave is also known as ‘time off for dependents’. You may also see it referred to as ‘family emergency leave’ or ‘carers leave’. It can also be used to refer to time off for grieving the death of a family member or loved one.


Compassionate leave is a type of statutory unpaid leave that is only available to employees when there is an emergency involving a dependent. You cannot penalise an employee for taking compassionate leave so long as their reason is genuine. Additionally, it does not matter how long an employee has been working for you - they can take compassionate leave as and when relevant.


Learn about all the different types of leave in the UK in our guide.


Who counts as a dependent?


In order to better understand how ‘time off for dependants’ works, we need to understand who qualifies as a ‘dependant’.


As outlined on the government website, a dependant can be a

  • Spouse

  • Partner

  • Child

  • Parent

  • Anyone that lives in their household as a member of their family


That relies on the employee for care and support. There are also exceptions made for anyone who sits outside of these categories but still reasonably relies on the employee for support and help during an emergency. For example, an elderly neighbour.


What counts as an emergency for compassionate leave?


The second aspect we need to look at closely is what counts as an ‘emergency’. An emergency is an unforeseen problem or situation that involves a dependent of the employee (as defined above).


By nature, a wide variety of situations can count as an emergency, ranging from a dependent becoming sick, care arrangements falling through, or someone dying suddenly. Critically, to qualify to take compassionate leave, an employee cannot have known about the situation beforehand.


What is dependants leave?


Time off for dependants and compassionate leave are two different ways of referring to the same type of leave. You can choose to use either name in your employment contract as long as you are consistent.


What is bereavement leave?


Bereavement leave is also often referred to as ‘compassionate leave’. However, it shouldn’t automatically be conflated with this label because unlike time off for dependents, there is no statutory entitlement to time off (paid or unpaid) after the death of a dependent.


Rather, the UK law on bereavement leave is quite unclear. As such, some employers choose to interpret ‘bereavement’ as a type of ‘emergency’, thereby classing bereavement leave as a type of time off for dependents in their employment contracts.


But as an employer, it is at your discretion to provide for bereavement leave in your employment contract. You can give your workers a subjective ‘reasonable’ period off or choose to stipulate how long each worker is entitled to. You can also choose to pay your workers during bereavement leave, or make arrangements for them to take this time off as sick leave, paid holiday (as part of their annual allowance) or unpaid leave.


The only exception to this is parental bereavement pay. Eligible employees can take parental bereavement leave and receive statutory parental bereavement pay if they fulfill the criteria.


Compassionate leave, bereavement leave: What’s the

difference?


As we’ve seen, the term ‘compassionate leave’ is used to refer to a few different types of leave. Since this can become confusing given the differences in rights and entitlements across different types of leave, we will now explain the difference between ‘time off for dependents’ and ‘bereavement leave’.


Employees have a statutory right to take unpaid time off for emergencies involving dependents. By contrast, there is no legal provision for bereavement leave. As a result, it is completely up to employers whether they want to offer bereavement leave or not.


Employee Rights During Compassionate Leave


As an employer, here’s what you need to know about your employees’ rights when taking compassionate leave.


Time of service does not affect entitlement

As we briefly mentioned earlier, it doesn’t matter how long an employee has been working for you. They are always entitled to take compassionate leave.


No need for notice

Employees do not have to provide you with advance notice because compassionate leave, by nature, deals with unforeseen circumstances. They should, however, endeavour to alert you as soon as possible that they will be taking compassionate leave. Though this does not have to be in writing and they are not required to provide you with evidence.


No stipulated time limits

There is no statutory allowance or limit on time off for dependents. Instead, employees are entitled to take as much time as is reasonable to deal with the emergency at hand. In other words, there is a subjective allowance for compassionate leaves.


There is no limit

In the same vein, there is technically no limit to the number of times that an employee can take this type of leave as long as they have genuine reasons.


Compassionate leave is unpaid by default

You do not have to pay employees when they take compassionate leave from work. However, if you would like to, then you can do so by including a term in your employment contract.


Is compassionate leave paid?


As we just saw, compassionate leave doesn’t need to be paid, but some employers may decide to pay their employees when they take this type of time off. It’s important to explicitly outline and explain your policy regarding time off for dependents in your employment contract.


How much leave can be taken?


There is no statutory limit on the amount of compassionate leave that an employee can take as long as they have genuine reasons that qualify as an ‘emergency involving a dependent.’ If you feel that an employee is taking excessive leave or that the frequency of their time away from work is disrupting your output, you should talk to your employee directly.


Are employers required to offer compassionate leave?


You are required by law to allow your workers to take time off to deal with emergencies involving their dependents. As we’ve seen, it is at your discretion whether you include the death of a dependent within this and if you want to pay your employees for this time or not.


Whatever your policy, you should ensure that it is explicitly and clearly outlined in your employment contract. When considering how to approach compassionate leave, you should most definitely think more broadly about how it might affect your employees’ experience.


Why Compassionate Leave is Important for Employee Experience


Providing generously for compassionate leave in your employment contract may have more impacts on your wider company culture than you first think. Indeed, choosing to offer more than the statutory minimum when it comes to time off for dependents is an effective way of improving employee experience and boosting employee morale.


For instance, choosing to pay your employees when they have to take unexpected time off to deal with an emergency demonstrates that you value them and support them beyond the workplace. This helps to create a supportive and welcoming workplace environment that should proactively improve employee satisfaction. Positive employee experience can be directly linked to overall output, productivity, and lower employee churn in the long-term, which is why it should be such an important factor when determining these policies.


How Zelt Can Help With Managing Compassionate Leave


Whilst setting out your time-off policies is one thing, managing them is an entirely different question. Effective and efficient management and coordination of payroll and employee leave requires a people-orientated workplace tool like Zelt.


Using Zelt, you can tailor your payroll settings to match your employment contract. So, if you do decide to pay your employees when they take compassionate leave, you don’t need to manually ensure they get their payslip. Your employees are empowered with the ability to request compassionate leave quickly when and if they need to and you get critical oversight over who is on leave from your organisation. A win-win for everyone.


Try it now for free.


FAQs about Compassionate Leave UK


Here are the answers to some of the most common questions relating to compassionate leave in the UK.


What is compassionate leave?


Compassionate leave which can also be called ‘time off for dependents’ or ‘bereavement leave’ depending on the context, is a type of unpaid leave in the UK which provides for emergency situations involving a dependent of an employee. Employers have the discretion to decide to pay their employees when they take this kind of leave.


Can compassionate leave be extended?


There is no set limit or allowance when it comes to compassionate leave. When it comes to taking time off to deal with an emergency involving dependents, you are allowed to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off. This is a subjective measurement and depends on the specific circumstances.


Be careful, though, as we’ve seen, since employees don’t have a statutory right to bereavement leave specifically, employers may stipulate a limit or maximum amount of time that employees can take after the death of a loved one.


How many days compassionate leave are you entitled to UK?


Compassionate leave provides for a ‘reasonable amount of time’ depending on the emergency at hand. This gives employees an amount of freedom to adapt to the situation they’re dealing with, without feeling stressed or under pressure to get back to work.


What qualifies for compassionate leave?


Employees are entitled to take compassionate leave if they have to deal with an unexpected incident or problem that involves a dependent of theirs. A dependent can be a member of family or someone who reasonably relies on them for care or support.


Do you get paid for compassionate leave UK?


Though the right to take time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependent is a statutory right protected by law, there is no requirement for your employer to pay you. As such, it is completely up to your employer whether they decide to pay you or not.


Is bereavement leave required by law UK?


The UK law is fairly unclear when it comes to bereavement leave except when it comes to parents.


Generally speaking, there is no law that requires employers to give their workers time off when someone close to them dies. However, many employers choose to do so anyway - often including it under ‘compassionate leave’ in their employment contract. Whether this is counted as paid or unpaid leave and how long it lasts is at each individual employer’s discretion.


Parental bereavement pay and leave are legally protected types of leave. Eligible employees whose child has died or was stillborn are entitled to take a maximum of 2 weeks of leave and receive £156.66 per week or 90% of their average weekly earnings.


How do I get time off work for a family emergency?


You are not required to have given notice to take time off work for a family emergency, since, by nature, you can’t have foreseen it. All you need to do is let your employer know as soon as possible that you’re taking time off for a dependent. You are not required to submit this in writing or provide any kind of evidence.


How many days compassionate leave are you entitled to in the UK?


There is no maximum entitlement for compassionate leave in the UK. You are allowed to take whatever time is reasonable to deal with the situation at hand. This also means that you can take time off work to deal with an emergency as many times as is necessary throughout the year, without having to think about a limit.



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