How to handle compassionate leave

How people react and deal with grief varies and there is no right or wrong way. Employers need to look at how they support staff when they suffer a personal loss or family emergency.

Traditionally many firms have granted three days’ compassionate leave, but there is no statutory entitlement to leave or pay. Compassionate leave can cover a range of situations as well as bereavement. It is a good idea to have a policy that is flexible and can be adapted fairly to cover the circumstances and responsibilities of the bereaved.

A policy which states that this applies for “close” family members needs to be more explicit, particularly as there are many blended families these days. You need to be clear about the amount of leave, when it can be taken and if it will be paid.

There are some statutory arrangements that could cover the death of a loved one.

Statutory parental bereavement leave

This is a relatively new state benefit – it only became law in April 2020. Two weeks’ leave (and pay at the lower of £156.66 per week or 90% of earnings) are available to any employee whose child dies before they reach the age of 18. It is also available if a parent suffers a still birth after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

This leave can be taken as a two-week block, two separate weeks or as just one week. It can start on or after the date of death, and must finish within 56 weeks of the death. It cannot run concurrently with another type of statutory leave like maternity leave, instead commencing after that has finished.

Statutory dependant leave

Dependant leave is available when an employee needs to take time off to deal with an emergency relating to someone who depends on them for care, such as a child or spouse.

There is no set time, just whatever’s reasonable according to the circumstances. Neither is there any pay – that is up to you (or what your handbook/contract says).

An emergency may be something like disruption of care arrangements, a partner going into labour unexpectedly or the onset of a sudden illness. Anything pre-planned, like a hospital appointment, does not qualify for dependant leave.

Statutory unpaid parental leave

Unpaid parental leave may have some relevance to this topic, although its scope is wider. It allows for parents to take up to 18 weeks of leave (at a maximum of four weeks a year) for each child up to their 18th birthday.

Unpaid parental leave applies to each child, not an individual job. So if an employee had used up their entitlement with a previous employer, then it would not be available with you.

While unpaid parental leave can be used for anything from simply spending more time with children to searching for a new school, it may prove a useful tool when structuring a compassionate leave package.

Other help

There are a number of specialist grief counselling services, of which Cruse is possibly the most well-known. Having an employee assistance programme that staff can contact at any time is helpful too. The more support you can give, the sooner your employee will manage their grief. If you need help writing a policy or managing a difficult situation, get in touch with the HR Dept Durham.

Read more.

How to handle compassionate leave

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