Do I have to provide employees with compassionate leave?

There are many grey areas when thinking about compassionate leave and time off to care for dependents.

There will be times when your employees will face emergencies outside of work or days where they have to take time off to care for dependents. You must consider how you will deal with these situations when they arise. So having your policies outlined in your employment contracts, so your employees (and you!) know where you stand is a good starting point.

What is classed as an emergency?

An ’emergency’ could be any number of things, and it may be useful to have some examples outlined in your compassionate leave policy. Situations involving the death of a loved one or serious illness, through to having no childcare could all be considered an ’emergency’ situation. Something like having an MOT completed on your car would not be classed as an ’emergency’ as this is something which could reasonably be arranged outside of working hours.

Taking time off for things which have been prearranged, such as a child’s hospital appointment, wouldn’t be considered an ’emergency’. Instead, employees should consider taking parental leave for such a scenario.

Compassionate leave and caring for dependents may be paid or unpaid – this is at the discretion of you as the employer. It should be carefully laid out in the contracts of employment so that all employees have a clear understanding of their entitlements.

There may be occasions where a specific situation has arisen in which the company wants to offer paid leave. This may not be in line with company policies or the employment contract, but something an employee intends to provide at their discretion.

While this is fine to do, employers should ensure that they are not seen to be treating some employees more preferentially than others. This could lead to accusations of unfair treatment further down the line.

Putting guidelines in place

There are no guidelines on how many times an employee may take time off to look after dependents or for compassionate leave. An employer does, however, have the right to discuss periods of absence if it is detrimentally affecting the work completed by the employee. Again, it may be wise to have guidelines in your policies to ensure that all staff are treated fairly and consistently.

Ultimately, when considering how you will address compassionate leave and caring for dependents in your policies and contracts of employment, it is advisable to think about what is ‘reasonable’ for an employee to expect and what is ‘reasonable’ for an employer to offer.

Making allowances will be extremely beneficial in terms of helping staff to manage their work and home balance and managing the pressures and stresses of being working parents. This will, in turn, aid staff wellbeing, which has a very positive impact on productivity and retention of staff.

Need support?

If you would like any support or guidance in understanding what leave you have to provide to your employees, or if you’d like to review your employee’s contracts, get in touch for a free no-obligation chat with one of our professional HR advisors

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