What is Compassionate Leave? (FAQs & Examples)

Andrew Buck's avatar Andrew Buck March 25, 2024

Employees in a company are likely, at some point, to come up against real life situations that are more important than work. Offering compassionate leave for these situations is a great way for the company to show that they care about their employees, and help their employees navigate difficult times in their life without piling additional stress on top of that.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about compassionate leave from work, including all the rules around compassionate leave, the most common examples, and how to handle it in a professional and thoughtful manner.

What is Compassionate Leave?

Compassionate leave is a type of leave that provides time off to deal with personal, upsetting or sensitive issues in their life outside of work.

This type of leave is most common in countries such as the UK and Australia, and is not used so often in the US. However, the idea behind it, and many common examples of compassionate leave may cross over with other leave types, such as bereavement leave, personal leave, childcare leave or parental leave, and more.

In some cases, sick leave can be used to cover the same thing.

What is the point of compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave is there to allow people to devote their time and attention to important situations in their personal lives, without having to worry about their responsibilities at work.

The point, for the company, is to show compassion for the employee, and treat them as a human being.

Human beings have personal lives and, despite how much their employer might wish that the job is their #1 priority, it’s not. A person’s family, their physical health or their mental health is more important.

Providing compassionate leave shows the worker that they’re valued as a human, that the company recognizes that there are bigger, more important things than work, and fosters a deeper relationship between employee and employer when they eventually return to work.

What is the difference between compassionate leave and bereavement leave?

Compassionate leave and bereavement leave are often used interchangeably.

Bereavement leave is specifically to allow someone time off for the death of a family member or loved one.

They can use bereavement leave to take time off and cope with their loss (at a time when they likely won’t be able to keep their mind on the job anyway), and to deal with or attend funeral proceedings.

All of this could come under the title of compassionate leave instead.

In most cases, compassionate leave includes bereavement leave, but covers more situations than just the death of a loved one, as we’ll explore a little later.

Do businesses need to provide compassionate leave?

Whether employees are legally entitled to compassionate leave depends on the location.

In the US, there’s no federal law covering compassionate or bereavement leave.

Some states, however, have their own laws for bereavement leave or for other situations that employees are typically granted compassionate leave, like being the victim of a crime. California and Illinois are two such examples.

Compassionate leave is a legal right in Australia, covering circumstances including:

Compassionate leave is referred to in UK law, but it states that it is up to the employer whether to allow it. However, some of the examples we discuss later on are required by law, only under different terms.

Is compassionate leave paid?

Whether compassionate leave is paid or unpaid again depends on local labor laws, differing from place to place.

In Australia, compassionate leave is paid, with the employee receiving their full rate of pay while on leave.

In most other places, it is granted as unpaid leave. The employer can, however, decide to pay the employee for their time off.

Be sure to check your local laws for full clarification on compassionate leave pay.

Is there a limit to compassionate leave?

If there is a law covering compassionate leave, it generally comes with a limit.

Australia’s law, for example, provides a maximum of 2 days off for each instance, which can be taken in one continuous period or two separate periods of 1 day each.

Some locations may not have a limit on how many days can be taken off, though, with compassionate leave available as long as is needed.

Again, check with the relevant labor laws in your location for more info.

How to request compassionate leave

Each company will likely have their own process for requesting compassionate leave.

This may be the same way employees typically request leave, like through a leave request form or a leave management software.

But due to the often sensitive nature of compassionate leave, it’s quite common for requests to happen through a private message to the employee’s manager or supervisor, where they can describe the situation in confidence.

What Are Some Compassionate Leave Examples?

Let’s make understanding compassionate leave a little easier by providing some of the most common examples of situations when it may apply.

Death of a loved one

As mentioned above, compassionate leave as a blanket term may include bereavement leave as well, providing time off for employees to cope with the death of a close family member or loved one.


Compassionate leave usually also applies for the loss of a child during childbirth, or a miscarriage.

Serious illness of a loved one

While bereavement leave is strictly for the death of someone close to you, compassionate leave may branch out to include when a loved one is diagnosed with a serious and/or terminal illness, allowing the employee to spend time with them.

Family emergency

Compassionate leave may cover unexpected events in one’s family that require urgent attention – such as an illness or injury to a family member or a natural disaster affecting one’s home.

Childcare emergency

It could also include childcare emergencies, such as having to care for a sick child, or when due to unforeseen circumstances there is no one available to care for the employee’s child or dependent.

This situation is sometimes covered as its own leave type, such as in the UK for example, which entitles employees to time off for family and dependants.

Being a victim of a crime

Compassionate leave commonly provides time off for employees after they have been the victim of a crime (such as an assault or theft), giving them time to recover and cope, and to handle legal responsibilities such as providing police reports.

Being involved in or witness to a traumatic event

Compassionate leave may also allow employees time off to cope with traumatic events affecting them or that they have been witness to – such as being witness to a violent crime or serious injury, or tragic events close to an employee’s home.

How to Handle Compassionate Leave in Your Business

If you offer compassionate leave in your business (whether you’re required to by law or offer it on your own accord), here are some tips on how to integrate it into your team.

Discuss compassionate leave in your employee leave policy

Your company policy should make mention of compassionate leave and any relevant rules regarding it, such as whether it’s paid and which situations qualify.

You may not need a separate compassionate leave policy – it could just take up a paragraph in your employee leave policy.

Demonstrate sympathy and understanding

Any time an employee needs to ask for compassionate leave is likely to be a difficult time for them. It’s important that you understand that work may be the farthest thing from their mind for the time being, and sympathize with and respect their need for time off.

Be discreet

These kinds of situations are often very personal matters. Along with respecting the employee’s need for time off, you need to respect their privacy and refrain from sharing personal details with the rest of the team without their permission.

It may be necessary to inform other team members that this person will not be at work, but keep it at that; there’s no need to share the specific reason for their absence, unless the employee themself chooses to do so.

Consider compensation or allowing other contingencies for compassionate leave

In many cases, you won’t be legally obligated to provide paid leave for compassionate reasons, but consider doing so regardless.

As covered, this will be a very stressful time for the employee, made all the more so by the prospect of losing out on a few days’ pay.

You can make it a lot easier on the employee by providing paid compassionate leave. In return, they’ll come back to work in a better mental state, and they’ll be more likely to put in hard work for you, knowing you were there when they needed it.

Additionally, or in lieu of payment, you can consider other contingencies to make it easier for the employee, such as flexible working arrangements while they attend to their personal matters.

Track instances of compassionate leave

Finally, make sure you follow your regular leave tracking procedures.

You may need this info for payroll, to ensure the employee gets compensated for their time off. You’ll also need to ensure it doesn’t accidentally get taken out of the employee’s annual leave.

Regardless, it’s just good practice to keep track of everything like this. Efficient scheduling and record-keeping, with a leave tracking app like Flamingo, helps avoid disruptions while enabling your team members to get the time off they need to stay healthy, happy and productive.

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Final Thoughts – Should All Businesses Provide Compassionate Leave?

Depending on where your business is located, it may be up to your discretion whether to provide compassionate leave for employees, as well as other details, such as whether or not it’s paid, how long it lasts, and what situations are covered.

But in general, we’d argue that it’s important to provide time off for employees in difficult times, such as the death of a loved one, or stressful or traumatic personal circumstances.

Doing so will help you build a more positive and caring company culture. You’ll have a lower turnover rate, and employees will generally give back with more effort and devotion towards the business.

Andrew Buck's avatar

Andrew Buck

Andrew is the content manager at Flamingo. He has managed teams in multiple industries, for both physical and remote businesses, and has experience dealing with the ins and outs of HR and leave management on a daily basis.

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