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As much as we may try, we can’t plan for every eventuality in life. Many times, unexpected (and unfortunate) events happen that we’ll have to deal with. When this happens, you (or those who work for you) are entitled to time off, known as compassionate leave.
If you’re a small business owner who needs to support an employee during their time of need, read our guide on what compassionate leave means and how it works in the UK.
Compassionate leave is the name given to time off work for circumstances in your personal life – usually related to family and dependants. It's sometimes referred to as 'time off for dependants'. There are many reasons an employee may require time off work to care for their dependants and they are entitled to do so as long as the reason qualifies as an emergency.
Giving compassionate leave isn’t a legal requirement for employers – but most companies offer it. Some reasons for compassionate leave may include:
Compassionate leave doesn’t cover time off if your employees themselves are sick. This is the same even if they’re experiencing poor mental or physical health. If the time off isn’t being used specifically to care for a dependant, your staff should use their Statutory Sick Pay.
There is no maximum limit to the amount of compassionate leave you can take, as long as there is evidence of an emergency. Your staff are entitled to a reasonable amount of time off work; however, if you believe repeated time off is affecting your employee’s work, you should discuss this with them.
If you have reason to, you can also request that your employee use their annual leave in order to continue care duties (once they no longer constitute an emergency).
An emergency is considered any unexpected event where an employee needs to take time off work.
An event doesn’t count as an emergency, or qualify for compassionate leave, if it’s known about in advance. For example, a staff member may have to take their child to hospital for a planned operation and then spend time caring for them afterwards. Because the operation date was known in advance with time to plan, this wouldn’t be considered a basis for compassionate leave. What happens next would be up to the employer’s discretion.
Compassionate leave is granted to employees who need to care for family members and dependants during unexpected events. A dependant is considered any member of your immediate family who depends on you for care. This could be a partner, child, or parent.
In some instances, an employee may request compassionate leave entitlement for someone who is not in their immediate family. Granting compassionate leave in this instance will be up to your discretion as their employer – though it’s important to remember to be sensitive in such situations, as personal relationships can mean different things to everyone.
There’s no legal requirement to offer paid compassionate leave, although many businesses choose to do so. This information should usually be included in an employee's employment contract or company policies. It’s important to be consistent in your approach to compassionate leave, as offering it to some employees and not others could be seen as discriminatory.
Although there’s no legal requirement to do so, offering compassionate leave to your employees has many benefits. Creating a positive work environment is key to successfully running a business – and being flexible and considerate in unfortunate circumstances is a good way to boost employee retention.
As people become more comfortable talking about their mental health, it’s important for employers to be open to these conversations. Taking time off for mental health reasons is often the best option for everyone – including you as an employer.
If a member of staff has a dependant or family member struggling with their mental health and needs to be there to support them, this is a valid use of compassionate leave. However, an employee wouldn’t be able to take compassionate leave if they’re experiencing mental ill health themselves.
Whilst there is no specific law on offering mental health-related sick days in the UK, you should encourage your staff to use their Statutory Sick Pay for mental health reasons when needed.
Compassionate leave is not the same as bereavement leave. Bereavement leave is specifically given in relation to the death of a loved one. Compassionate leave is much broader and can be taken for any sort of emergency or illness in a dependant.
Your company’s approach to both bereavement leave and compassionate leave should be laid out in your company policies.
Once your employee is ready to come back to work, you may agree on a phased return to work plan. This allows your employee to gradually return to their responsibilities in a slow and supportive manner.
For example, your employee may be granted compassionate leave because their child is recovering from major surgery. After the initial recovery period, their child may need less support – allowing your employee to return to work. By agreeing to a phased return to work, your employee can complete both their work and care responsibilities.
Each phased return to work plan will look different. But you may create a plan for your employee to:
Whatever the plan is, you should schedule a return to work meeting with your employee to go over any expectations or changes to their role before they come back into the workplace. This is your opportunity to:
Pay during a phased return to work will depend on the agreement between you and your employee. If your employee does the same work on reduced hours, they should get their usual rate of pay for their new hours.
There’s no set rule on how to compensate your employee for the hours they don’t work. This will depend on your company policy and could be paid with company sick pay or SSP.
If there’s a change of workload, you may have to agree on a new rate of pay with your employee. Whatever this change is, it should be reflected in writing.
What’s your company policy on compassionate leave? Let us know in the comments below.
Rosanna Parrish is a Copywriter at Simply Business, specialising in legal and HR content. Trained at London College of Communication, she has been creating content professionally for eight years at publications across the UK and Spain. Starting her career in health insurance, she also worked in education marketing before returning to the insurance world. Rosanna also writes about wellbeing in the workplace. She lives by the sea and does her best writing in coffee shops.
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