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Bereavement and compassionate leave in the UK

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Grief and bereavement support

If someone close to you has sadly passed away, you may need time off work to grieve and take care of the funeral arrangements. This guide will explain everything you need to know about compassionate leave and how many days you are entitled to for bereavement in the UK.

What is compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave, also 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 or attending a funeral. 

There is no legal obligation for UK employers to grant compassionate leave, though most companies will have a policy; it’s best to check your employment contract or staff handbook if you have recently been bereaved.

How many days are you entitled to for bereavement in the UK?

The Employment Rights Act 1996, which applies to England, Wales and Scotland, specifies that that all workers are entitled to ‘time off for dependants’. In Northern Ireland, legislation is covered under The Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996; this allows employees to take time off work in emergences that involve dependants. Both of these acts define dependants as your spouse, 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 compassionate leave?

There is no statutory right for you to have paid leave after bereavement. You should check your employment contract or staff handbook to see what your company’s policy is on paid compassionate leave.

Research by XpertHR found that the majority of employers provide paid bereavement leave for employees who lose a loved one, family member or dependent. The survey revealed that 97.9% of companies grant some or all bereavement leave on a paid basis.

How to ask your employer for compassionate or bereavement leave

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.

Whilst you may find it easier to request time off in an email or letter, it is better to ask an employer in person. This will ensure you know exactly what your bereavement leave entails.


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.


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