Bereavement leave

Unfortunately, most people will experience the loss of somebody close to them at some point during their career and, as such, may request time off work for compassionate bereavement leave. Bereavement leave (also known as compassionate leave) is the period of time a worker is granted off work by their employer following the death of a family member or loved one. This allows the worker time for grieving and managing bereavement matters, such as arranging or attending a funeral. This means that an employee may need to be out of the business, generally at short notice, for an indefinite period of time. Employers must somehow cover their absence, and may be uncertain as to the employee’s likely return date.

Employer discretion

Currently, there is no legal obligation for UK employers to provide compassionate leave as standard, paid or otherwise. However, most employers do exercise discretion and some may choose to detail a formal bereavement leave policy as a contractual entitlement. Whilst there is no one-size-fits-all solution for any workforce, it is the employer’s responsibility to prepare for the eventuality that an employee may request time off work to grieve.

The impact on employees

Because employees have no statutory right to time off following a close bereavement, this leaves a legal grey area around what they are entitled to do following the loss of a loved one. By making employees aware of a clear policy around bereavement leave in their contract, employers can strengthen their relationship with staff and provide loyal support during difficult situations. Dealing with the death of a loved one is hard enough for a person without them having to worry about whether they are actually able to take time off work, and whether they or not they will be paid during that time. It is important to note that employees do have the right to take unpaid ‘time off for dependants’. This could either be a spouse, partner, child, parent, or anybody who relies on the employee for care, help during an emergency or making funeral arrangements.

Bereavement Leave: The Acas guidelines

If, as an employer, you are unsure about the best way to frame your policy around bereavement leave, we recommend that you read through the Acas guidelines on bereavement in the workplace before establishing a policy. The policy must also be supported by ensuring managers and other designated employees are effectively trained to support staff who have recently experienced the loss of a loved one. Being prepared to have difficult conversations is essential to ensuring that both the employee and the business can recover and resume work as soon as possible.

The law behind bereavement leave

An employee’s right to bereavement leave is not protected by law. Although the Employment Rights Act 1996 gives employees a right to take time off to deal with an emergency situation, which includes the death of a dependant, this right applies only to take steps once the emergency has happened and not, in the case of a death, to actually take additional time to grieve. As such, any duty to show compassion is left to the employer’s best judgement.


  • There is currently no legislation that requires UK employers to provide bereavement leave, unpaid or otherwise.
  • However, it is strongly advised that employer’s prepare a clear company policy in the event that an employee requests additional time off work to grieve.
  • Without the approval of their employer, employee statutory rights are limited to the remit of emergency leave for the loss of a dependant.
Bereavement leave is directly related to the following aspects of employment: Dependants Emergency Leave

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