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Manchester City midfielder Yaya Touré has reignited the debate about compassionate leave. He has accused his club of refusing his request to be excused from the team’s Abu Dhabi tour to visit his brother in his final days (something the club denies).
There is no legal requirement in the UK for employers to provide compassionate leave. Current legislation only covers “time off for dependants”. This includes leave for emergencies and to organise or attend a funeral, but does not include time off to grieve. It doesn't apply where the deceased is not a dependant (as was the case with Touré and his brother).
When it comes to compassionate leave, there is a gap in the law.
Most employers do exercise discretion. In a recent report, XpertHR noted that of the 730 companies asked more than three-quarters of them had a compassionate leave policy in place. Grieving staff took an average of 11.8 days off using these policies.
Yet because compassionate leave is not protected by UK legislation, employees could theoretically be forced to attend work the day after a bereavement (regardless of how they are coping). They may even be disciplined for any unauthorised absence. Clearly, this is not good for employee morale or retention and it is something the Government and campaign groups have struggled with.
So how should employers approach the issue of compassionate leave and what do they need to consider?
Grief affects everyone differently – the needs of an employee who has lost a parent will not be the same as for those who have lost a child. It is almost impossible to be prescriptive about human nature, and sensitivity needs to be balanced with operational requirements. Employers would be well advised, therefore, to be consistent and fair, but flexible.
This article first appeared in HR Magazine in June 2014.
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