26 June 2023

Bereavement and compassionate leave: a guide for employees

4 minute read


Maryam Munir

Maryam Munir

Maryam Munir worked as a content marketing writer at Ciphr from 2019 to 2021, specialising in topics related to HR systems, recruitment, payroll software, and learning and development.


Health and wellbeing


Many people don’t pay attention until their employers’ bereavement and compassionate leave policies until they need to use it. Here’s what you need to know

If a loved one is ill and you need to take time off from work to look after them, do you know how compassionate leave can help? If you sadly lose a loved one, do you know what you’re entitled to under bereavement leave? Read our blog as we share the key points and answer the main questions employees are likely to have around bereavement and compassionate leave.

What is compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave is when employees get time off work if a relative or loved one is critically ill.

There are currently no UK laws obliging employers to grant compassionate leave, however, many organisations still offer it.

Your employer may pay you for compassionate leave but they don’t have to. There is no statutory entitlement to pay if employees do take compassionate leave.

By offering compassionate leave, employers can show their support for employees during tough times. Gwenan West, Ciphr’s head of people, says: “People dedicate a lot of time to their work, often going above and beyond their contractual duties, so when things happen in their personal lives which mean they need time off, this is an employer’s moment to be supportive and show that they care.”

If you are going through a situation where you think you could be entitled to compassionate leave, the first step, as West says, is to talk to your manager.

“Managers should ask questions around the situation, find out as much information about what the employee is having to deal with, and the company should then make a decision about what length of time and payment is appropriate in the circumstance.”

Open communication can help your manager and HR teams better understand your situation and give you a suitable amount of leave.

What does a compassionate leave policy contain?

It’s up to your employer to create a compassionate leave policy that clearly states how much time off they give to employees for certain circumstances and whether there are limits on the number of times an employee can take compassionate leave.

When looking through your organisation’s compassionate leave policy (which employees typically review during their onboarding stage), make sure it covers:

  • Statutory rights
  • How much time off you get in specific circumstances
  • How much time off is paid or unpaid
  • Requirements for employees to provide notification

However, West says employers must not be dictatorial with their compassionate leave policy.

“Employers and HR teams should try to stay away from having a policy that sets out exactly how many days of leave an employee would get in each situation because each situation is different. For example, if an employee’s friend has passed away, you can’t say you will only give them a few days of leave because it’s only a friend and not a blood relation – that friend might be closer to them than an actual sibling and they may have next of kin responsibilities to carry out.”

So, West adds, “with compassionate leave, employers have to take it on an individual basis and adapt the leave for that individual.”

Rather than having to follow a set policy, West says employees should also make sure that they have opportunities to chat to managers or HR and share their concerns.

“Employers or managers should be having open conversations about the process of compassionate leave and what will happen next. They should also ask employees how much leave they think they will need.”

Is compassionate leave paid?

There is no legal right in the UK to paid compassionate leave (although there is a right to paid parental bereavement leave, if you meet the eligibility criteria – see below). However, many employers will pay you during periods of bereavement or compassionate leave. Check your employment contract, and your organisation’s policies, for full details of any pay you may be entitled to during a period of compassionate leave.

If your employer does not offer paid compassionate leave, you may be able to take the time off as sick leave or unpaid leave, or use your annual leave allowance instead.

What is bereavement leave?

While compassionate leave refers to time off if a loved one is critically ill or dies, bereavement leave – which is often referred to and included with compassionate leave – is specifically when an employee takes time off after the death of a loved one.

Research from the CIPD found that just over half (54%) of employees said that they were aware of their employer having a policy or support in place for employees experiencing bereavement.

West says “employers should encourage employees to read the company policies within their first week on the job to help them understand the company values and culture” – employees should therefore make sure they take the time to read and understand policies (including those around compassionate and bereavement leave) so that they know what support they can receive if needed in the future.

Employers should also make employees aware of the internal or external support measures in place to help employees deal with a bereavement.

What is parental bereavement leave?

On 6 April 2020, legislation known as ‘Jack’s Law’ came into effect, giving parents time off to deal with the death of a child if they die under the age of 18 or are stillborn after 24 weeks’ pregnancy.

Parents have a right to two weeks’ statutory parental bereavement leave if they’re an employee, and this right applies to all employed parents irrespective of how long they have been with their employer (the leave is a ‘day one’ employment right).

Parental bereavement leave must be taken within 56 weeks of the date of the child’s death and can be taken at short notice. The two weeks’ leave can be taken either in one block of two weeks, or as two separate blocks of one week. If an employee loses more than one child, they can take a separate period of leave for each child.

Parents with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service with their employer and weekly average earnings over the lower earnings limit will also be entitled to Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay (SPBP), paid at the statutory rate.

SPBP is administered by employers in the same way as existing family-related statutory payments, such as Statutory Paternity Pay. Employers can recover 92% of the SPBP paid, and those eligible for small employers’ relief can reclaim 100% plus a further element, which is currently 3%.

If there is ever a situation when you need to take compassionate leave or parental bereavement leave, don’t forget to openly communicate with your manager and HR teams to find out how your organisation can support you. Talk to your employer as soon as possible and make sure they understand how you are feeling.

Ciphr HR can help organisations better communicate important policies to employees

Ciphr’s HR software platform enables employers to digitally share policies with indvidual employes for them to review and ‘accept’, enabling organiations to not only maintain tight version control over important documents, but also to report on which individuals have read these policies. To find out how our HR system can help with policy distribution and acceptance, and much more, request your free demo now.

This article was first published in September 2021. It was updated in May 2023 and June 2023 for freshness, clarity, and accuracy.