Compassionate leave

Compassionate leave is where an employee takes time off work to deal with an emergency involving a loved one. 

If you are dealing with the death of a dependent, visit our guidance on bereavement leave for more information. 

What qualifies as compassionate leave?

Emergencies involving a dependent needing your help come in all shapes and sizes.

Common situations where employees take compassionate leave include:

  • If a dependent becomes ill.
  • If a dependent has been assaulted.
  • If a dependent has been injured.
  • If a dependent goes into labour unexpectedly.
  • Issues around a dependent’s care arrangements.
  • If a child dependent has issues at nursery/school.
  • If a dependent dies (see our bereavement leave guidance.)
Does my workplace offer compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave and entitlement will differ between workplaces – you should be able to find information on this in your employee handbook.

It should cover:

  • When and how you can apply for compassionate leave.
  • Your leave entitlement.
  • If the leave is paid, and how much you are entitled to.
Am I legally entitled to compassionate leave? 

If you are classed as an employee, you are allowed unpaid time off work to deal with emergencies involving a dependent. 

Who is classed as a dependent? 

The law states that dependents include:

  • A spouse, partner, or civil partner.
  • Parents.
  • Grandparents.
  • Children under the age of 18.
  • A person who relies on you for assistance in the event of an accident or illness e.g., an elderly or disabled neighbour.
  • A person who lives in the same household, excluding tenants, lodgers, and employees.
Will I be paid?

There are currently no laws entitling UK workers to paid time off for compassionate leave. Some workplaces will offer paid time off when taking compassionate leave - this should be clear in your employee handbook.

If you are not entitled to paid compassionate leave, your employer may agree for you to take the time off as paid annual leave or sick leave, in which you will receive your usual annual or sick pay.

How do I request compassionate leave

This will vary from workplace to workplace but should be outlined in your employee handbook. In the event of an emergency, you should notify your employer as soon as possible so that they can grant the compassionate leave request, this should include what has happened, how long you expect to be away from work, and when you expect to return.

Other things you may want to consider include notifying colleagues and noting workload that will need to be covered while you are on compassionate leave.

How long can I take off for compassionate leave?

There is currently no legal entitlement to set number of days off work when taking compassionate leave – just that it should be ‘reasonable.’

Typically, employers will offer one to two days, however more days off may be required depending on the situation. You should be able to find further details in your employee handbook. Your employer may offer more days off at their discretion if required.

I need more time off. What do I do?

As previously mentioned, there is no legal entitlement to set days off – the amount of time off will be at your employer’s discretion. You may be able to extend your compassionate leave, or ask you to use up other forms of leave such as annual leave, sick leave, or parental leave if it involves a child dependent or even unpaid time off if you were previously being paid.

If you feel you need more days off than your employer is allowing, you should speak to your Community Rep to see what options are available.

Does compassionate leave run out?

There is no limit to how much compassionate leave can be taken. Compassionate leave entitlement is separate from other time off e.g., sick leave or annual leave, therefore doesn’t accumulate or run out.  

Do I have to provide proof for compassionate leave?

Employers may ask for proof for you to take compassionate leave – this will depend on the situation, but usually, written proof explaining the reason for the compassionate leave will suffice. 

Can my employer refuse a compassionate leave request?

While it is rare for employers to refuse a compassionate leave request – it can happen, in which case you can request to take the time off as annual, sick, parental, or unpaid leave (if you would normally receive paid time off for compassionate leave).

Your compassionate leave request may be denied if you knew about an emergency or situation beforehand and didn’t notify your employer immediately when it happened. If it is denied, your employer may request you use your annual or sick leave.

If your employer refuses to grant you unpaid time off, or annual, sick, or parental leave to deal with an emergency, you may be able to raise an informal grievance, depending on the nature of the emergency.

You should inform Community immediately if you intend to do this as our legal team may be able to provide advice and support you through this process.

If you need help or advice, please contact us at or on 0800 389 6332.


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