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Balancing business objectives with distress that employees may be experiencing at home is a delicate process. Almost all of us will experience some form of bereavement or traumatic event during our working lives there is therefore genuine sympathy as managers and employers. The overwhelming majority of employers do provide some form of paid compassionate leave. So what is fair?

The real problem for employers and HR managers is achieving some form of consistency while also recognising these are very individual situations which we all experience differently. I clearly remember allowing 3 days leave for an employee to attend his uncle’s funeral some distance away. It violated our policy as uncles did not count as close relatives in our policy, nor had the uncle brought the employee up. But that uncle had been the man’s sole surviving relative and he was clearly distressed.

My own view is, in small organisations where the owner is running the business, that an ad-hoc approach enables flexibility and that a policy can be unnecessarily constraining. But another recollection of mine is allowing an employee (unpaid) leave to be with their terminally ill mother. It was many months before we saw the employee again! Flexibility can go too far.

And, as organisations grow, consistency is difficult to achieve without the framework that a policy provides.

Certainly the evidence from the recent research reveals that a formal policy is very much better than none at all. An employer without a policy is twice as likely to experience difficulties as compared to the average.


Specify the number of days that can be taken on any one occasion 2-3 days for an immediate relative is typical.

Specify whether you will be prepared to extend this by unpaid leave on request.

Identify the relationship (parent, sibling, spouse) that would trigger the entitlement to leave

Be clear what will and will not be paid.

Monitor the leave taken. It is surprising the number of grandparents (if they are included) that one employee can have.

In the end an employer should be prepared to be flexible. The unexpected death of a son or daughter has to be treated differently from the passing on of a parent after many years of nursing care.

Flexibility should be sanctioned by one person in the organisation only so as to ensure consistency as far as possible. This might be the owner or the HR Manager.

Finally, whether you pay them or not, employees have the right to time off for emergencies, including bereavement, that involve dependants.

Download a sample policy here:

Compassionate Leave Policy

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