Bereavement and compassionate leave in the UK

It can seem impossible to know where to start after the death of a loved one, with funeral
arrangements, death registration and the estate to handle, all while finding room to grieve. But
arranging and understanding compassionate leave in the UK will remove unnecessary pressure and
give you much-needed space to focus on the tasks ahead.

What is compassionate leave?

Compassionate or bereavement leave is time employers grant employees off work for death in their family or of a close loved one, allowing them time to grieve, make arrangements and attend the funeral.

Bereavement time off is usually given for the death of immediate family members but can extend to relatives and even friends depending on the employer’s policy and your responsibilities.

How many days are you entitled to for bereavement leave?

There are currently no UK laws obliging employers to grant leave entitlement for death in the family, however many businesses do.

Most allow three to five days for bereavement leave, according to the BBC, but this depends on what your contract or staff handbook states or your employer’s discretion.

There are ways around being denied time off or given fewer days than needed, such as dependent leave. See ‘Compassionate leave policy‘ and ‘Can an employer refuse bereavement leave?’ for more information.

Parents who lose a child under the age of 18 or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy will have the right to two weeks’ leave under the Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Act, which is expected to come into force in 2020.

Do you get paid for compassionate leave?

Companies aren’t yet legally bound to pay for any bereavement or dependent leave they may grant. However, 97.9% do, according to a survey by XpertHR.

It’s therefore important to know employers might also stipulate how much bereavement pay you’ll receive, with influencing factors commonly including if the loved one is part of your immediate family and the period of leave given.

When the Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Act becomes law around 2020, eligible parents who have worked at least 26 weeks with an employer will have the right to paid leave at the statutory rate.

What is considered immediate family for bereavement pay?

Some employers offer compassionate leave when an immediate family member passes away, with the leave length sometimes depending on the relationship. But this term isn’t always defined in a policy or contract.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines immediate family as a parent, sibling, spouse or child, while other sources extend to grandchildren, aunts and uncles.

Don’t be afraid to request compassionate leave even if it doesn’t fit your company’s criteria, as employers may decide on a case-by-case basis.

Compassionate leave policy

Employers typically explain their compassionate leave policies in employment contracts or a staff handbook. If a policy is lacking in these areas, you should instead ask your employer or HR representative for clarity.

If you’re denied bereavement leave, remember you have the right to take time off for emergencies according to the Employment Rights Act 1996. This is otherwise known as dependant leave and can be used when someone who relies on you – i.e. a child, spouse or even elderly neighbour – passes away, becomes injured, falls ill or faces other emergencies, including the sudden loss of their family member.

There’s no minimum or maximum amount of time that can be taken for dependant leave, however states it should be “a reasonable amount”.

Can an employer refuse bereavement leave?

Employers aren’t expected to grant compassionate leave in the eyes of the law but many do. This also doesn’t cover dependant leave, which employers don’t have to pay for but can’t force you to make up later.

If you’re refused time off, consider asking for unpaid leave, using holiday allowance or agreeing to make up the time at a later date.

What to do next

With time off work settled, you’ll be able to properly register the death, get your loved one’s estate in order and speak with your local funeral director to organise the best possible send-off.

Losing a loved one can make you feel overwhelmed because there’s so much to do and think about.

That’s why no one should face it alone, but take advantage of the support available.

Funeral directors such as Funeral Partners are experienced with working with local families in many different circumstances, so can be on hand 24/7 to help you work through this difficult time.

For free impartial advice, you can also contact the National Bereavement Service. You can call their helpline on 0808 164 2239 from 9.00am to 5.00pm Mondays to Fridays and on Saturday from 9.00am to 2.00pm.

The government’s websites also list a range of bereavement support services across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Get in touch

Your local funeral director is the best place to find out about funeral arrangements catered to your needs. Search for your local funeral director.

How to pick a funeral director

You can be assured that every funeral home that is part of the Funeral Partners family will provide outstanding client service.

Documents and certificates

Certificates you will need to enable you to start arranging the funeral and sorting out the affairs of the person who has died.

Letting people know

Picking up the telephone to tell close family or complete strangers such as an employer about the death is usually difficult.

Compare Cremation Funeral Services

Cremation services usually involve a gathering of family and friends and a cremation committal to say goodbye to a loved one.

Further Reading: Arranging a funeral

Read about how funerals are arranged and what services you can expect to get.