Compassionate Leave – Entitlements & How to Ask for Leave

Although there is no legal right to compassionate leave, most employers are keen to be fair in this area. It can be difficult to know how to ask for compassionate leave, particularly during distressing times such as bereavement.

Our guide looks at what falls under the scope of compassionate leave, and how to request it from your employer.

bereaved woman requesting compasionate leave

What is Compassionate Leave?

The term ‘compassionate leave’ means leave granted for a range of personal’ reasons that are not related to illness. It is usually leave granted for domestic emergencies or personal issues relating to a spouse, children or parents.

Some companies call this ‘time off for dependants’. It might also be referred to as bereavement leave if a close family member has died.

Reasons for Granting Compassionate Leave

There are a variety of situations where compassionate leave might be granted.

Here are some common reasons for your employer to grant compassionate leave:-

  • Death of a close relative or dependant.
  • Serious or life threatening illness of a close relative or dependant.
  • Unavoidable childcare emergencies.
  • Your partner has suffered a miscarriage and you need time off to support them.

Generally speaking, compassionate leave is granted only to deal with emergencies relating to close family members. However, it is always worth discussing with your employer if you feel you need time off. Most good employers will want to take care of your welfare if you are dealing with a distressing situation.


When is Compassionate Leave a Legal Right?

There are very few scenarios in which you have a legal right to compassionate leave under UK employment law.

Parental Bereavement Leave

If a parent suffers the loss of a child under the age of 18, or a stillbirth after 24 weeks they have a legal right to bereavement leave. This law was introduced in 6th April 2020, and allows two weeks leave.

You are entitled to this type of leave at any time within 56 weeks of bereavement, and don’t have to provide notice to your employer. Bereavement leave does not have to be taken as two weeks in a row. It can be two separate weeks.


Time Off For Emergencies Relating to Children & Dependants

Although there is no legal obligation for an employer to offer compassionate leave, you are entitled to reasonable time off for family and dependants.

You are not entitled to time off for a situation you knew about in advance. For example time off for a hospital appointment for your child.

The UK Government says you can take leave for emergencies, but has not created any laws to support this. That creates a potentially awkward situation if an employer is unwilling to accept your right to time off in an unexpected situation.

The legal protection in this type of situation lies in the fact that your employer cannot disadvantage you for taking this type of leave. For example, you cannot be made redundant or subject to disciplinary action. You may be able to take your employer to an employment tribunal if you suffer disadvantage.

For more, see the UK Gov site on what to do if you have problems taking time off.


How to Ask For Compassionate Leave

It’s best to ask for compassionate leave formally. Send a letter or an email to your manager explaining what you need and why.

Include:-

  • A description of what has happened.
  • Explain your relationship to the person involved.
  • Your reasons for needing compassionate leave.

If You Don’t Feel Able to Return After Compassionate Leave

If you are on compassionate leave and you do not feel able to return to work, make a GP appointment. Should you feel unable to work, your doctor may be able to issue you a fit note so you can take sick leave.

During a distressing time, or a bereavement you might be signed off for mental health reasons.


Stay in Touch

It is advisable to stay in regular contact with your employer during your compassionate leave, especially if it is for a period of over two weeks.

Speak to your boss, line manager or HR manager and keep them up to date with your progress, perhaps even suggesting returning for fewer hours if you are not ready for full-time employment.


Take it in Turns

One note of caution is that domestic emergencies are often dealt with by the wife or mother of the family.

If both parents are working full time and there is a domestic emergency, try to take it in turns to deal with it to reduce the impact on any one person’s career. Employers understand that issues arise and need to be dealt with at short notice, but they may be concerned if it happens too often.


Further reading

Our guide on your right to time off to attend a funeral gives information on leave to pay your respects.

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