Bereavement and compassionate leave in the UK
Most people will experience the death of a person close to them (a bereavement) during their working lives. If someone close to you has sadly passed away, you may need time off work to grieve and take care of the funeral arrangements. Here we explain your rights around compassionate leave in the UK.
What is compassionate leave?
Compassionate leave, sometimes referred to as bereavement leave, is additional time off work that is granted to those who have recently lost a loved one. It gives employees time to grieve and manage bereavement matters, such as arranging a funeral.
There is no legal obligation for UK employers to grant compassionate leave, though most UK companies will have a policy in place. It’s best to check your employment contract or staff handbook if you have recently been bereaved.
If your workplace has a bereavement policy, it should say:
• when leave for bereavement could apply
• how much leave your workplace provides
• if leave is paid, and the amount of pay you may be eligible for
What is parental bereavement leave?
From 6 April 2020, employees have a right to two weeks off if their child dies under the age of 18 or are stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy. This is called 'parental bereavement leave'.
There is an entitlement to statutory parental bereavement pay for employees with at least six months' continuous service.
How much compassionate leave will I get?
The Employment Rights Act 1996, which applies to England, Wales and Scotland, specifies that all workers are entitled to ‘a reasonable amount of time off during the employee’s working hours in order to take action which is necessary in consequence of the death of a dependant’. The act defines dependants as a spouse, civil partner, parents, children or someone who relies on you for care.
UK law does not stipulate to employers how much leave should be granted to employees. Whilst it is common to be granted between two and five days, it is at the discretion of your employer to decide how long you will be given for compassionate leave.
If you do not feel ready to return to work after compassionate leave, you may be able to use up some of your paid annual leave to extend your absence.
Will you be paid for bereavement leave?
There is no legal right to be paid for time off for bereavement, unless someone is eligible for parental bereavement pay when a child dies. However, many employers do choose to offer pay during bereavement, they may refer to this as 'compassionate' or 'bereavement' paid leave. The amount your employer offers is up to them so check your employment contract, workplace policy or staff handbook.
Time off to attend a funeral
An employee has the right to take time off to attend a funeral if the person who died was a dependant (for example, their partner, parent or child). It may come as some surprise but, in cases that do not involve a dependant, there is actually no statutory right to time off for the purposes of attending a funeral. However, it is common for employers to allow you to take time off to attend the funeral.
There's no legal right for this time off to be paid, but some employers might offer pay. It’s likely that there will already be a policy in place so you should check your contract or workplace’s policy.
If your workplace does not offer paid time off for a funeral, the employee and employer could agree on using holiday or annual leave or unpaid leave.
Ensure that you comply with any requirements specified in the company’s policy and where possible, give your employer plenty of notice so arrangements can be made to cover your workload.
How to ask your employer for compassionate or bereavement leave
As there aren’t any clear rules or laws for employers on bereavement, it may feel uncomfortable to request bereavement leave. Most employers are sensitive and understanding, so you’ll be given time to grieve and make funeral arrangements.
When it comes to asking your employer for compassionate leave, it’s likely that there will already be a policy in place. If this is the case, make sure you fully understand it or have a copy to hand before speaking to your employer.
Having a conversation with your employer will ensure you understand exactly what your bereavement leave entails, so in the first instance, it’s best to talk to them. Following this initial conversation, they may request that you put your request in writing.
If you’re granted compassionate leave, it’s also important that you keep in contact with your employer. Keep them updated on how the situation is evolving and let them know if you anticipate having to take more time off work.
What if you’re refused compassionate leave?
It is unlikely that your employer will refuse to give you compassionate leave if you have made a reasonable request. However, if you are refused time off, you may want to get help from your trade union, Citizens Advice or ACAS.
Visit our grief & loss support page if you would like further advice. You'll also find a list of helpful organisations that may be able to help someone who has suffered a loss. Alternatively, if you need help arranging a funeral, contact us.