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Are you entitled to compassionate leave?

While there is no automatic legal entitlement to compassionate leave, your employer may allow you paid or unpaid time off.

Unfortunately, the law does not give you a right to paid time off to mourn or grieve a loved one. But your employment contract may give you the right to paid or unpaid time off beyond what the law entitles you to.


Dealing with an emergency

As an employee, you’re entitled to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off from work in order to deal with an emergency involving a dependent. A “dependent” could be your spouse, partner, child, parent, someone who lives in the same household as you, or some other person who depends on you for care.


The right to time off arises if:

  • you need to assist a dependent who falls ill, gives birth, or is injured or assaulted;

  • you need to make arrangements for an ill or injured dependent;

  • you need to take action when a dependent dies;

  • you need to deal with unexpected disruption or the termination of care arrangements;

  • your child is involved in an incident at school.

If you know about the situation in advance, eg your child has a hospital appointment or your childminder is going on holiday, this will not be classed as an emergency. This means you will need to book annual leave or parental leave for this time off in advance.


Compassionate leave

It’s worth checking your contract, staff or company handbook, or intranet as applicable, to see whether your employer is more generous. Some employers will pay staff who have a family emergency, or grant paid or unpaid “compassionate leave” in these situations. On average this tends to be for between three and five days.

Even if your employer doesn’t have a policy for your particular situation, it’s worth speaking to them as they may still grant you time off. If your employer knows your circumstances they are more likely to be sympathetic.

If your employer denies you time off for a dependent, you may want to raise a grievance and, in certain circumstances, you may have the right to make an employment tribunal claim (but strict time limits and procedural rules apply). If you need assistance or advice with this, contact the Which? Legal team today.


How long am I entitled to?

The law states that you’re allowed a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with the death of, or an emergency involving, a dependent.It will depend on your particular circumstances and how your employer chooses to apply its policies.

We advise that you discuss the situation with your employer so you can both agree on a time period. Generally, unless your employer has a more generous policy, you shouldn’t expect them to agree to more than one or two days off.

If the initial emergency has been dealt with but you want more time off (eg to look after a sick relative) you may have to ask your employer if you can use annual leave or parental leave to cover this period. Similarly, if you’re grieving, you may have to use annual leave, take unpaid time off or speak with your GP if you feel you are not fit to work as a consequence.


Will I get paid for emergency leave?

Although your employer may pay you during this time, there's no statutory right for you to be paid when dealing with an emergency or bereavement following the loss of a loved one.


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