Compassionate and Bereavement Leave: Supporting Your Employees

18 April 2024 | Blog

Compassionate Leave is a form of leave that employees are entitled to, allowing them to take time away from work to focus on urgent personal matters, often relating to the health of a close friend or family member. This form of leave provides employees with the flexibility to support their family & friends in a time of need, to attend any urgent emergencies or a situation that requires their immediate care and attention.

Bereavement Leave is when an employee is granted time off work following the unfortunate passing of a family member or close friend. These situations are typically emotional, the employee will need time to grieve, make funeral arrangements, and attend to matters regarding their personal life. It is important to realise that some things in life are more important than work. Giving the employee time and space is the correct thing to do and Bereavement Leave gives them that.

It is important to recognise the importance of supporting your employees if they are on Compassionate or Bereavement Leave, as they prove to be an extremely difficult time. Employees are granted the opportunity to focus on themselves, their own mental health and the needs of their families and friends. Often, the thought of work, whilst in these situations, can be distracting, and it is an un-wanted and un-needed distraction. Therefore, as an employer, it is important to offer support as and when you can, but also to give the employee the space and time to recover from this. By offering Compassionate & Bereavement Leave, an employer can demonstrate empathy and understanding towards their employees’ personal circumstances, this helps create a positive and open workplace.

In the UK, we have legal guidelines in place for Compassionate and Bereavement Leave. Is it not necessary for employers to offer Compassionate Leave. However, many employers will offer it to their employees, and they should. If you don’t have a Compassionate Leave policy in place, we strongly recommend you consider implementing one. Employees also have additional rights in place through the Employment Rights Act 1996. Where it is stated that employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant, which may include situations necessitating Compassionate Leave.

Focusing on Bereavement Leave, the UK Government brought in the Parental Bereavement Act 2018, which provides employees with the right to take at least two weeks of statutory bereavement leave following the death of a child under the age of 18, or a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Thus, providing parents with the time and space to grieve their loss. It is important to recognise that they are a parent as well as an employee, especially at times like this.

In the modern day, a lot of companies will have their own policies on Compassionate and Bereavement Leave, outlining what employees are entitled to and any additional support in place. One form of additional support that we, at The HR Booth, offer is Occupational Health support, who are available for appointments to provide support during difficult times. This is something we offer to our own employees as well as our client base.

Understanding Compassionate Leave

Compassionate Leave entitles staff to time off work to focus on more urgent, and sometimes unforeseen, personal matters relating to the health of a close family member or friend.

There are several reasons why Compassionate Leave may be granted, one of which is serious injury or illness. When a family member or close friend falls ill or has a significant injury. Employees may have increased responsibility in this instance, particularly looking after their family member or close friend in their time of need. They may need assistance taking medicine or accompanied to medical appointments.

Sometimes, injuries or illness may be sudden and unexpected, therefore Compassionate Leave would be granted should this be the case. Sudden emergencies such as sudden illness, a house fire or hospitalisation of a close relative would qualify here. We recommend, if the employee needs to attend to something like this, that you, as an employer, grant them that opportunity.

End-of-Life Care is a difficult time for all the family. If an employee’s relative is in this situation, it is important you grant them the space and time to support and be with their loved one, this may include making arrangement for care and / or transport.

It is important to recognise the benefits to offering Compassionate Leave to your employee. Improving their wellbeing is a clear and relevant benefit. As it reduces the stress associated with balancing work and any personal issues.

You are more likely to retain good employees by offering Compassionate Leave. By offering this form of leave, you are demonstrating a level of care and understanding to your employee. This will build loyalty too.

Productivity will likely increase, as you are providing a work-life balance. By giving employees, the time and support that they require, you are showcasing a level of understanding. The employee will be more likely to work harder for you if you support them when they need it.

Understanding Bereavement Leave

Bereavement Leave is a form of leave granted to an employee who has experienced the death of a close family member or friend. The purpose of this leave is to give employees time and space to grieve their loss, plan a funeral, and deal with private matters.

The duration of Bereavement Leave can vary from company to company. Standard practice is to offer between three to five days paid Bereavement Leave. In some more difficult cases, the duration mat be longer if additional time is needed.

As before, Bereavement Leave will vary from company to company, therefore it is important to recognise that every employee will grieve differently. Bereavement Leave is available to all employees. Typically, Bereavement Leave will be taken by immediate family, however this is sometimes extended to other family members, depending on the situation.

The death of a spouse will result in Bereavement Leave being granted. This situation can have a significant impact on the employee, so it is vital you support them where you can.

An employee will be granted Bereavement Leave in the death of their child. This situation is tragic, and the employee must be given time to spend with their family and time to grieve.

The death of a parent is an extremely upsetting situation, and an employee may want to take Bereavement Leave in this instance, to attend to matters such as funeral arrangement or other family obligations.

A sibling passing away can mean that an employee needs time off on Bereavement Leave. Furthermore, if an employee’s close friend or relative passes away, they may also need time off.

Legal Guidelines on Compassionate Leave & Bereavement Leave

There are several legal requirements that organisations must abide by in regard to Compassionate & Bereavement Leave. There is no legal requirement to offer Compassionate Leave, however most companies do (and should) offer it. Employees are however entitled to time off to deal with an emergency, under the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Parental Bereavement Leave Act 2018 allows employees time off following the death of a child under the age of 18 or a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. The time allowed is usually around two weeks and is aimed to try and provide support to parents who have went through a traumatic experience.

Many companies will have policies in place regarding Compassionate and Bereavement Leave,  but these policies will vary from company to company. Some companies may offer beyond what is legally required, while others have more restrictive policies. In the modern day, companies should have policies in place to ensure fairness and transparency. This includes outlining eligibility criteria and duration of leave.

Companies must be clear and consistent with their policies. Including fair treatment for all, ensuring that all employees understand the rules around it when requesting leave.

There has to be an element of trust between employer and employee. By applying these policies in the workplace, employers are demonstrating compassion, sympathy, and trust to their workforce. This, in turn, will boost morale in the workplace, and trust should be reciprocated.

Companies should aim to streamline this process to make it as simple as possible. This involves having an easily accessible employee handbook. At The HR Booth, we use Breathe HR to streamline all our HR processes, this includes documentation being uploaded to their site, ensuring all employees have access to it.

There are a few differences between Compassionate Leave and Bereavement Leave. One of which is the duration of leave required will vary from company to company and between both forms of leave.

Furthermore, the additional support required will vary as Compassionate Leave and Bereavement Leave can have differing impacts on employees.

Compassionate and Bereavement Leave are essential to creating a positive workplace culture and to boosting employee morale, through affording employees time and space to deal with personal matters, such as the loss of a loved one.

Compassionate Leave offers employees the flexibility to deal with personal matters, in their own space and time. In some instances, there are situations which are more important than work matters, and by granting this leave, employees can fulfil their family duties.

Bereavement Leave shares many similarities. It provides time and space to an employee to grieve the loss of a loved one or make funeral arrangements. It enables employees the chance to focus on their personal wellbeing during difficult times.

There are UK legal guidelines that provide a framework for Compassionate and Bereavement Leave. Policies will vary from company to company, but it is essential that all employers offer some form of Compassionate and / or Bereavement Leave.

By offering compassionate and bereavement leave, employers demonstrate empathy and understanding towards their employees’ personal circumstances, fostering a positive and supportive work environment. These policies contribute to employee well-being, retention, and productivity, ultimately benefiting both the individual and the organisation as a whole.

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