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Compassionate Leave – how compassionate do you need to be?

Compassionate Leave – how compassionate do you need to be?

Compassionate leave is there to help staff cope with the death of a close relative, deal with arrangements and attend their funeral. It can also be allowed where a close relative is seriously or critically ill.

The amount of compassionate leave is always a hot topic and can vary greatly. Social media giant Facebook has recently updated its bereavement policy so that its staff can take 20 days off at full pay if a member of their immediate family passes away. They are allowing 10 days leave for the loss of an extended family member and 6 weeks off to care for a relative that is unwell. Generally speaking, this is a very generous offering.

The law on this is quite clear and doesn’t need to be as favourable as Facebook’s. An employee has the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work when it is necessary to:

(a) provide assistance when a dependant falls ill, gives birth, is injured or assaulted;

(b) make longer-term care arrangements for a dependant who is ill or injured;

(c) take action required upon the death of a dependant;

(d) deal with the unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of a dependant (such as a child-minder falling ill); and/or

(e) deal with an unexpected incident involving your child while at school or another educational establishment that is responsible for them.

A dependant is classified as a persons spouse, civil partner, parent or child; a person who lives in the same household as the employee, but who is not the employees tenant, lodger, boarder or employee; and can be anyone else who reasonably relies on the employee in question to provide assistance or make arrangements/ take action of the kind.  

Facebook have also introduced ‘family sick time’ which is 3 days to spend with a family member who is temporarily unwell.

Clearly, these changes are part of wider initiatives by Facebook to create the best working environment for its employees.

A spokesperson from the company said that treating their staff well underpins their commitment to their core values which in turn increases the performance and loyalty demonstrated by their staff.

Compassion or Commercial?

Bereavement is a highly sensitive issue and it is impossible to define how long the grieving process should take – especially given how varied and complex people’s family dynamics can be. But for businesses it can be a difficult decision.

Employers can find it a challenge to decide how long their staff should be allowed time off whilst still being compassionate but continuing to focus on the needs of their business. It could be seen as a positive step for businesses, such as Facebook, to offer such policies making less generous employers look less attractive as they are not able to offer the same or similar packages as they do not have the resources.

Carrie-Ann Randall of Lawson-West Solicitors comments: “Ill health and bereavement can be an uncomfortable topic to consider, however standing out from other employers and addressing the matter in a policy will allow the employee transparency and assist them through an already worrying and difficult time.  Knowing their employer is supporting them at such a painful time will most certainly help.”

If you are an employer and you wish to ensure your compassionate leave policy is up to date, or an employee who is has concerns in relation to bereavement please contact a member of our expert Employment team on 01858 445 480 or 0116 212 1000.

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