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How much compassionate leave should employees receive?

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Social media company, Facebook, has recently upgraded their compassionate leave policy for their employees if either an immediate or extended family member dies, as well as time off for sick relatives. Howard Robson, Partner in the Employment team, here reviews their new policy and advises employers about their own compassionate leave policies.

Under the new policy at Facebook, employees can now take up to 20 days of paid leave if an immediate family member dies, or 10 days paid leave for an extended family member. They have also introduced a policy of six weeks leave to care for a sick relative, and “family sick time”, which is three days to take care of a family member with a short-term illness.

“The amount of time needed to grieve will vary depending on the people involved and the relationship, for example if an employee’s child dies they may require a more phased return to work,” explains Howard. “Some people may view returning to work as a necessary and helpful distraction to help them return to their routine; however the risks of an employee returning to work too soon can lead to productivity issues.” 

Compassionate leave policies in the workplace

Compassionate leave doesn’t just include a death in the family, but also if a family member suffers a life threatening illness or injury. A compassionate leave policy covers immediate family or those in the same household; however a business can change this to also include extended family at their discretion.  Immediate family would refer to a spouse or partner, child, parent, sibling, grandparent or grandchild, as well as the child, parent, sibling, grandparent or grandchild of the employee’s spouse or partner. It does also include step-relations as well as adoptive relations.

Compassionate leave is not accrued in the same way as holiday leave, and it is not taken out of an employee’s sick leave allocation. The leave can be paid at their base rate salary for full and part time employees, but this will be at the employer’s discretion and is not normally applicable to casual workers. An employer can request evidence to support the reason for the compassionate leave request, however this must be a reasonable request.

Time off for dependants

While compassionate leave is not a statutory right, all workers are entitled to time off for dependants, which means a reasonable period of unpaid time off for dependants, including time off to arrange or attend a funeral.

“Compassionate leave is therefore important when it comes to deaths of those who are not classed as dependants of an employee,” explains Howard. “Having a compassionate leave policy in place will bring benefits to employees, employers and managers. Being presented with a request for compassionate leave could prove daunting for some managers and so having a policy will give them support and the ability to remain consistent and reasonable across the firm, potentially avoiding a grievance claim if the request if refused. Your employees are the foundation of your workplace, and offering paid compassionate leave will go a long way to securing their loyalty by showing they are a valuable part of your workforce. While the length of time off tends to vary between 3-5 days, a compassionate leave policy should be flexible and acknowledge that there will be due consideration on a case by case basis to give the employee sufficient time to come to terms with their loss and return to work at their own pace.”

If you would like to review or introduce a compassionate leave policy in your workplace, you can contact Howard or the Employment team on 02380 717717 or email


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.