When someone close to you dies, there’s often a lot to take care of. Arranging the funeral, supporting your family, coping with grief – these things take time, and you might find you need some leave from work. But what are your rights around compassionate leave in the UK? Let’s take a look.


What is compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave, also known as bereavement leave, is time off work granted to those who’ve recently lost a loved one.

There’s no statutory compassionate leave entitlement under current UK law. However, the Employment Act 1996 does specify that workers can take a “reasonable” amount of time off for dependents. This time can be used to arrange a funeral. The Act defines a dependent as a spouse, partner, child, parent, or someone you’re caring for.

Even if there’s no law guaranteeing you compassionate leave, your employer may have a policy that grants you this time. Your contract of employment should have a section in it that explains what you can expect from them and how to claim it.

On 13th September 2018, a new law was passed granting two weeks of paid bereavement leave to parents who have lost a child under the age of 18. This law is expected to come into force in April 2020.


How long is compassionate leave?

UK law doesn’t specify a minimum amount of time off for dependents. This is sadly up to your employer. Most tend to grant between three and five days. However, depending on the situation, you may be able to get more time off if you need it:

  1. You may be able to use up some of your paid annual leave as compassionate or bereavement leave.
  2. If you’ve lost a child at birth or shortly after, you’re still entitled to the full amount of maternity leave.
  3. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a duty to accommodate religion and culture when granting compassionate leave. For example, your religious beliefs may mean that you need to stay at home for a certain amount of time after the death. Your employer must either allow that or objectively justify their decision not to.
  4. The Equality Act also applies when someone needs sickness leave. Bereavement can result in stress, depression, anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Employers are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments for their unwell employees, including time off work. You’ll need to see a doctor and ask for a note to get this.


Do you get paid for compassionate leave?

Sadly, there’s no guarantee of compassionate or bereavement leave in UK law. Your employer may offer you some paid leave – as we mentioned above, three to five days is quite common. If not, they might let you draw from your paid holiday allowance if you need more time.

Not everyone does this, though. Some employers might offer up to two weeks’ paid leave, whilst others might not offer any at all.


How to ask for bereavement leave or compassionate leave

If you’re in the sad situation of needing to ask your employer for compassionate leave from work, here are a few tips that might help you:

  • Check whether there’s anything about compassionate or family bereavement leave entitlement in your contract. Take a copy with you when you speak to your employer.
  • If your loved one has an emergency or if they receive a diagnosis for a life-limiting illness, tell your employer as soon as possible. This will help them make plans for when you need to take time off and for how best to support you when the time comes.
  • Let your employer know about key things like the date of the funeral, any travel abroad, and whether you have additional caring responsibilities or legal duties to carry out.
  • If you’re in charge of arranging the funeral or executing the will, make sure you have reliable practical support in place. Beyond can help you find a funeral director and settle the estate.
  • Worried about approaching your manager with a leave request? Reach out to a trusted colleague for advice or ask to speak to your trade union representative if you have one.
  • If you’re concerned that your mental health might be affecting your capability for work, get a doctor’s note as soon as possible. You should be entitled to paid sickness leave even if your employer won’t give you additional compassionate leave.
  • If your employer denies your leave request and you feel that they may have discriminated against you, look for support from a mediation service. You might be able to access help through ACAS or your trade union.

We wish you all the best in getting compassionate bereavement leave. UK law might be frustratingly vague, but there are ways you can get time away from work, and there’s support out there if you need it.

Print this guide