An employee facing the death of someone close to them is sadly something that many employers have to experience from time to time. It’s a situation that can affect people in many different ways and in some cases can severely affect a person’s ability to work. So it’s important that employers are prepared for the situation so they can adequately and compassionately support their staff member.

What is the law around compassionate leave?

Anyone who is classed as an employee has the right to time off from work if a dependent dies or they suffer the loss of a child to stillbirth or when they are under 18.

A dependent is defined as a husband, wife, civil partner or partner, child, parent, someone who lives in their household (but not employees, lodgers or tenants) or someone who relies on the employee such as an elderly neighbour.

But whilst employees have the right to take leave, there is no law around that leave being paid or how long the leave should be (unless it is in the case of the death or stillbirth of a child) so that’s why it is important employers consider the matter in their policies and contracts.

Should compassionate leave be paid?

In an ideal world, all compassionate leave should be paid, in the same way parental and sick leave is. But that’s not always possible and as there is no legal direction, it is important to give consideration as to where an employer stands before a situation arises.

One option would be to agree that employees can take paid time off after a bereavement and specify how long that can be for. That could be just a few days, a couple of weeks or longer. At a minimum, the employee should be able to have time to deal with the arrangements that follow a death and to attend the funeral, which might involve some long-distance travelling.

Then the employer can consider whether a longer period of leave might be allowed if it’s combined with annual leave or unpaid leave. In some circumstances, the leave might be considered as sick leave in which case, the standard sick leave policy should be enacted including the need for fit notes and consultation with the GP.

Having a discussion with the employee about leave and pay at the point of bereavement is not ideal and so employers are encouraged to develop a policy for all their employees as a matter of course, so it is in place for when it is required.

Death of non-dependents

If the person who has passed away is not a dependent of the employee, they can still request leave but there is no legal obligation to grant it. As mentioned above, a ready policy will help with these situations with consideration at least given to allowing paid time off for the funeral. As always, sensitivity and compassion are needed when discussing the circumstances so that the employee feels supported.

If you need help developing a compassionate leave policy, a specialist HR consultant will be able to help you. If any of your employees need compassionate leave and there needs to be adjustments to your payroll, just get in touch.