Time off work following the death of a loved one is known as compassionate leave or bereavement leave.
How much compassionate leave are you entitled to and what are the conditions of that leave?
Am I entitled to time off work for compassionate leave?
Under section 57(A) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees have the right to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off work to deal with an emergency that involves a dependant. This right applies to all employees, whether part time or full time, from day one of their employment.
In this instance, a dependant is someone who relies on you for care such as a spouse, a child or a parent. This care element could include a non-family member who depends on your support such as a neighbour, but such circumstances would be at the discretion of your employer.
Most employers have a policy in place dealing with dependants’ leave.
Compassionate leave, however, is not covered under the Employment Rights Act. As such, where employers do have a compassionate leave policy, the terms will fall under the discretion of your employer, for example, the amount of time that can be taken off work, whether the leave is paid, and who is classed as a dependant.
What is the purpose of compassionate leave?
In most cases, the purpose of compassionate leave is to allow you the time away from work to arrange and attend the deceased’s funeral, and deal with any other related matters, such as applying for probate and attending related legal meetings.
How much compassionate leave are you entitled to?
There is no legal requirement for employers to offer compassionate leave other than as time off for dependants.
The Employment Rights Act simply says that employees have the right to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off to deal with dependant emergency situations. What this amounts to in reality is down to the discretion of the employer.
Unison involvement in certain public and private sector organisations has pushed the amount of compassionate leave allowed up to between 5 and 10 days paid or unpaid leave.
Both the Acas and gov.uk websites state that one or two days’ compassionate leave are ‘reasonable’.
Unfortunately, even where your employer does offer compassionate leave separate to time off for dependants, it is still their decision on how much time off they will grant to their employees.
What if you need more compassionate leave time off?
If you feel that you need more time off to deal with the death of a loved one, you should contact your employer as soon as possible.
The decision on whether to extend your period of compassionate leave is at your employer’s discretion. Even where your request is denied, your employer can discuss the alternative options with you, for instance, taking annual leave, unpaid leave or working from home.
What if your religion requires you to take a longer period of compassionate leave?
Where your religion has a set period of mourning and specific funeral rituals, for instance, the Hindu mourning period of 13 days and the Jewish period of 7 days, or where the body must be buried at short notice, an employer must do their best to grant a fitting period of compassionate leave or provide a reasonable justification for why they denied the request for leave.
If your employer is seen to be acting unreasonably and in a way that discriminates on the grounds of religion or belief, they may leave themselves open to prosecution under the Equality Act 2010.
Will your compassionate leave be paid or unpaid?
There is no requirement for your employer to pay you for either time off for dependants or compassionate leave.
This doesn’t mean that your leave will necessarily be unpaid though.
Check your employment contract and staff handbook to find out your employer’s decision on this.
Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018
In September 2018, the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018, was passed in Parliament and received royal assent.
This new legislation puts in place the following parental bereavement rights for employees:
- the right to 2 weeks’ paid bereavement leave for employees who lose a child under 18
- the right to 2 week’s paid bereavement leave for employees who suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The Parental Bereavement Act is likely to come into effect in 2020.
Compassionate leave after a stillbirth
Where a female employee has suffered a stillbirth after 24 weeks of her pregnancy, she is entitled to 52 weeks statutory maternity leave and pay.
In this situation, the option of paid maternity leave should be weighed against compassionate leave, perhaps unpaid, and an earlier return to work.
What if the deceased person is not your dependant?
This will depend on whether you wish to take time off for dependants or compassionate leave.
If you wish to take time off for dependants and the deceased is not a dependant, your employer has no legal requirement to allow your request.
Where your employer has a compassionate leave policy, the details of that policy will state any requirements for your connection with the deceased.
Generally, the decision on whether you will be granted either form of leave when the deceased is not a dependant is at the discretion of your employer.
How do you ask for compassionate leave?
Firstly, your employer should have a policy in place for all categories of leave request. Check your employment contract and staff handbook for details of how to ask for compassionate leave.
Secondly, speak to your line manager or supervisor so they are fully aware of the situation and the effect the bereavement may have on you.
What if your employer refuses to grant compassionate leave?
Under the Employment Rights Act, you have a statutory right to take a reasonable amount of time off in the case of an emergency related to your dependants, including the death of a dependant. An employer who refuses your request for time off in this circumstance is acting illegally.
Firstly, approach your employer and discuss the matter with them. It may be possible to settle the disagreement satisfactorily without taking it any further.
If you are still unhappy with your employer’s response, then you may wish to follow your employer’s grievance policy, seek assistance through Acas or complain to an employment tribunal.
Why take legal advice?
When facing the difficult situation of the death of a loved one and seeking compassionate leave, especially where your employer is reluctant to grant your leave request, take specialist legal advice to ensure you are fully informed of your legal rights.