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Compassionate Leave

>> HR Glossary/  Compensation & Benefits / Compassionate Leave

What is compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave is a type of absence granted by an employer when an employee goes through a distressing situation in their personal or family life. These circumstances may include personal health issues, emotional recovery, or challenges in the employee’s family life. The length of the leave and whether the employee receives pay for the time off depends on the employer’s policies.

Compassionate leave vs. bereavement leave

Bereavement leave is a type of leave granted when an employee needs time off due to the death of a loved one. It is often based on an employer policy that may include specific requirements for the relationship between the deceased and the employee. 

Compassionate leave, on the other hand, includes a broader range of situations beyond bereavement. Although some employers might use “compassionate leave” and “bereavement leave” interchangeably, it’s essential to recognize that compassionate leave can cover various circumstances not typically included in a standard bereavement policy.

Overall, both compassionate leave and bereavement leave are used to describe time taken off work for personal reasons.

Compassionate leave examples

Compassionate leave can be taken for a wide variety of reasons, including:

  • Serious illness of a close relative or friend: Employees are often permitted to take time off to care for a seriously ill family member who requires medical treatment or supervision. This could be a few days or weeks depending on the circumstances.
  • Mental health conditions: Employees that are dealing with mental health problems might need time off to attend therapy sessions with a psychiatrist or psychologist.
  • Medical appointments and treatments: Employees who are dealing with an ongoing treatment, such as chemotherapy or physical therapy may take extended leave, either continuously or intermittently.
  • Being the victim of a crime: Victims of domestic abuse, for example, may need time off to find safe housing, meet with police, attend court hearings or receive counseling support.
  • Witnessing or being involved in a traumatic event: Employees who witness or are involved in a traumatic event may take leave to seek treatment and recover.
5 Examples of compassionate leave.

Compassionate leave policy: What to include

As you develop a compassionate leave policy for your company, there’s a few key points to keep in mind:

1. Define what qualifies for compassionate leave

While you can leave some room in your policy for exceptions, it’s helpful to clearly define life events that qualify for compassionate leave. This approach makes it easier for employees to determine when they can ask for this kind of leave.

2. Determine the length of the leave

How long can employees take leave for qualifying events? Will this compassionate leave be paid or unpaid? Can employees request an extension if there are further qualifying events or complications? Make sure to include all these details in your policy.

3. Outline the request and approval process

Clearly outline the request process for compassionate leave after a qualifying event. What steps will the process have to go through before approval? What qualifying documents does the employee need to provide? It’s essential to keep this process as concise as possible to avoid creating unnecessary barriers for employees who need assistance.

4. Specify if the company is going to offer additional support

Sometimes, in addition to leave time, your company will want to provide additional support to employees. Offering mental health resources, shortened work days or more flexibility when the employee returns to work shows that the company cares about the employee’s overall wellbeing.

5. Explain if other leave can cover unpaid time

Include clear guidelines for how employees can use their other leave – including PTO and sick leave – to receive pay while on compassionate leave.

HR tip

Implementing compassionate leave in your organization can go a long way toward improving your overall company culture. Employees are likely to feel a stronger sense of loyalty to a company that stands by them during challenging times, creating a healthy and balanced employee-employer relationship. Additionally, without such leave, employees might not have time to handle personal matters, which can lead to decreased focus and engagement at work.


How long is compassionate leave?

The duration of compassionate leave offered by an employer can vary depending on the organization’s policies. In general, compassionate leave should provide a minimum of three to five days for employees to deal with the qualifying event and handle the challenges that it brings. 

Do employees get paid for compassionate leave?

Whether employees get paid for compassionate leave depends on the employer’s policies. Many organizations offer paid compassionate leave for a few days following a qualifying event, with the option for an employee to take unpaid leave if they need additional time off. Since compassionate leave is not a legal requirement, employers can determine how they handle compensation during such periods. However, offering paid compassionate leave can help improve employees’ loyalty and reduce stress during challenging times. 

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