Compassionate Leave Policy

Employment Rights Act 1996 of UK states that a 'reasonable amount of time can be provided along with payment can be provided as compassionate leave. Read on.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: May 17, 2022
  • 5 Minutes
Compassionate leave policy in UK explained by Papershift

The world of the workplace has undergone drastic changes over recent years. Employers today find themselves in the position where workers expect to be provided flexible working hours, options for their working styles, flexible workspaces, and, in certain cases, compassionate leave.

But the laws on compassionate leave in the UK are complex and often misunderstood with a lot of businesses not even realising that compassionate leave is an option. In this guide we will look to answer all your questions regarding compassionate leave as well as giving advice on the best practices to manage it. Let’s begin. 

What is Compassionate Leave?

Compassionate leave is defined in law as 

‘Reasonable time off for extremely personal reasons during working hours.’

Compassionate leave encompasses things like bereavements and dependent care (also known as ‘time off for dependants’). More often than not it is given to an employee who is dealing with an illness or emergency situation within their family.

What Are the Laws on Compassionate Leave in the UK?

The UK employment law on compassionate or bereavement leave, and pay is incredibly vague. The Employment Rights Act 1996 states that employees are allowed a “reasonable” amount of time off to deal with emergency matters. It is not a statutory right that this time off is paid but the law does specify that this type of leave isn’t allowed for situations that employees know about beforehand. For instance, an employee is allowed to take time off to rush to hospital after an emergency, but they’re not necessarily allowed to take time off to take a relative to the hospital for a pre-booked appointment.

The Employment Rights legislation states that employers can give employees with responsibility for care compassionate leave for an undetermined timeframe to deal with a family crisis but gives no guidance on how long this should be.

What Issues Might Lead to an Application for Compassionate Leave?

Compassionate leave is a form of absence taken when an employee has to deal with a sensitive or upsetting situation. Example situations could include:

  • When a close friend or family member is seriously ill or seriously injured.
  • If they’ve been a victim of a crime and need time to recover or deal with the situation.
  • If they’ve witnessed or been involved in a traumatic event.
  • Illness, injury or assault of a dependant. This includes mental or physical illnesses, and the injury does not need to be life threatening. It could be that they have an existing health condition that has gotten worse. 
  • The death of a dependant, although this is often dealt with as bereavement leave by a company (see later).
  • The failure of a normal carer to turn up to look after a dependent. This can often lead to the employee having no choice but to stay home to care for their loved one.
  • An incident with your child at school. This includes disciplinary issues for the child that requires a parent’s urgent attention.
  • Where a dependant is having a baby an employee is allowed to also take time off when they go into labour. This is especially valid if the employee is the person they are relying on to take them to hospital.

How Long Can I Take for Compassionate Leave in the UK?

In the UK the amount of time you can receive off as compassionate leave is vague in law and will often depend on the situation. You would need to have a look at your company’s policies and your contract of employment for full details.

Will I Get Paid for Compassionate Leave?

As mentioned earlier in the article, there is no legal right to be paid time off for compassionate leave. Parents are, however, eligible for parental bereavement pay when a child dies. Many employers do choose to offer pay for compassionate leave, but the amount is up to them. 

Is Compassionate Leave the Same as Bereavement Leave?

It’s common for both phrases to be used interchangeably, but bereavement leave is specific to taking time off work following the death of a loved one. Compassionate leave, on the other hand, is time off to look after someone close like a relative or dependant. 

While both are similar in nature and are looked upon equally in the eyes of the law, an employer may enact two different policies for each and may deal with issues differently.

Employee Best Practices for Dealing with Compassionate Leave

With the vagueness within law regarding compassionate leave, it is important that every employer thinks about the matter in terms of their own workplace and comes up with a fair way to deal with issues. Be compassionate yourself and think how you would like to be dealt with if things were reversed.

The exact amount of leave and pay an employee chooses to offer employees is often left up to them but details of how they will handle it should be outlined in employment contracts, staff handbooks, or company policies. This is vital as employees who need compassionate leave are often in a very stressful state. Making compassionate leave policies clear and accessible will save your employees and yourself time and hassle.

Recommended Tech Solutions to Help Deal with Compassionate Leave

There are a variety of HR software solutions that allow employers to manage leave, whether planned or emergency-based. These can often monitor employee absences as well as working out pay, if applicable. Most HR software solutions come with a monthly subscription cost but the savings in terms of time and money can far outweigh this fee. 

Other helpful tech solutions include online or software-based policy writing templates. These will often compile a compassionate leave policy automatically based on answers the employer provides. This can often save time and resources that would otherwise be wasted on HR.

In Conclusion

Compassionate leave is a sensitive subject in a business and understanding the issues surrounding it is important to a happy workplace. We hope that, with a little help from this guide, the subject is a clearer and a little easier to manage.

For more useful employment guides and articles, check out the rest of our website.

manage shift planning, timesheet and sta
Free Trial
Track Staff Working Hours, Record Absence & Approve Vacation
  • Clock in and out from browser
  • Time tracking via Phone & Tablet app
  • View & approve time records online
  • Export timesheets to payroll
  • View & approve staff vacation requests
  • Overview of employee availability & absences
14 days free trial. No credit card required
14 days free trial


Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)