Compassionate leave policies beneficial for employers and employees

Compassionate leave
With no statutory right, compassionate leave is often seen as a "grey area"

Adopting a formal compassionate leave policy brings clear benefits both to employees going through difficult times and their employers, according to new research.

In the absence of any statutory rights for bereavement leave and other forms of compassionate leave, this area of employee relations is viewed as a “grey area” by many organisations.

Reconciling the need to treat employees with sensitivity during difficult times must be balanced with pursuing the organisation’s business objectives. The broad range of reasons for taking compassionate leave must also be taken into account.

The 2014 XpertHR Benchmarking research on compassionate leave arrangements  – based on responses from 730 organisations – looks in detail at how employers approach this complex issue.

“The main difficulty with compassionate leave is balancing individual need with consistency,” according to one survey respondent in the services sector.

Compassionate leave policies

A majority of employers surveyed by XpertHR take a formal approach to compassionate leave. More than three-quarters have a compassionate leave policy in place. A further one-fifth of employers do not operate a compassionate leave policy, but make compassionate leave arrangements on an ad hoc basis.

Compassionate leave is offered on a wholly paid basis at three-fifths of organisations. Two-fifths offer a combination of paid and unpaid compassionate leave where required. Fewer than one employer in 25 says that compassionate leave is entirely unpaid.

UK employers believe compassionate leave is highly valued by employees, and consequently reflects well on the organisation. One manufacturing and production firm says that “the more flexible we are in terms of being compassionate according to the circumstances, the more we actually help people return to work and be effective in a reasonable length of time. We’ve also found this approach engenders a great deal of loyalty and motivation among our employees, as they know we’ll treat them with the appropriate degree of compassion during difficult times.”

Resourcing problems

The survey also asked whether or not compassionate leave is causing resourcing problems for UK employers – only around one in six respondents had experienced such issues.

However, the proportion of employers experiencing resourcing problems rose sharply among those who do not have a formal compassionate leave policy in place, to one in three.

Line manager responsibility

Half of employers report that the primary responsibility for dealing with compassionate leave requests lies with line managers, whereas HR takes main responsibility for dealing with compassionate leave requests at one-third of organisations.

The approach described by one services sector employer is typical of many UK employers: “Compassionate leave requests are considered by the line manager first of all, who liaises with HR to ensure a fair approach is applied across the organisation.”

At organisations providing compassionate leave on a wholly- or partly-paid basis, the median percentage of pay provided to employees taking compassionate leave is 100%.

More than half of employers providing compassionate leave on a paid basis (whether wholly or partly) specify a maximum number of days that can be taken. At the median, the maximum number of days’ paid compassionate leave employees can take per year is five days.

Measuring compassionate leave levels

While a majority of employers have a compassionate leave policy in place, measuring the amount of leave taken is a minority practice, undertaken by only one in five.

Across all employers surveyed by XpertHR who were able to provide data on compassionate leave levels for 2013, the median amount of compassionate leave taken per 100 employees stood at 15.4 days. This figure rose to 22.3 days at the average.

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