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    What is Compassionate Leave? [5 Best Practices]

    5 mins

    What is compassionate leave? Compassionate leave is a type of leave offered by some organizations to employees who are experiencing any of the below:

    • Death of a family member, domestic partner, or friend

    • Caring for an ill dependent, such as a spouse, parent, or child

    • Last-minute childcare emergencies

    In the United States, businesses are not required to offer paid compassionate leave. Some choose to do so on their own under a bereavement leave policy. According to Payscale, 60% of all employees are provided bereavement leave. The average length of their leave is three to five days off. 

    How Does Compassionate Leave Differ from Traditional Leave?

    Employees are familiar with traditional leave policies such as vacation and sick days. Compassionate leave is a bit different. It includes time to make arrangements after the death of a loved one or to care for an ill dependent. 

    For example, someone who has recently experienced the death of a spouse will likely need compassionate leave. During that time, they can arrange for a funeral, organize legal documents, contact extended family members, and take time to process the loss of their loved one. 

    What Are the Best Practices for Compassionate Leave?

    More companies are beginning to see the importance of offering compassionate leave. Simply giving an employee three to five days off isn’t enough, especially when the person who passed away or is ill has been a key figure in their lives. 

    Bereavement is a tricky thing. Some people can take a week off and return to work, while others may need longer to process their feelings and heal from the loss.

    Logistics and the planning process also play a role. If the bereaved is responsible for handling the administrative aspects of the loss, three to five days may not be enough. 

    When setting up a compassionate leave policy, employers should follow these five best practices:

    1. Define Compassionate Leave in Company Policy

    Compassionate leave should include time off for grieving the loss of a loved one. It should also cover other challenging life circumstances, like caring for a severely ill family member or dealing with last-minute emergencies. 

    A clear definition of the organization’s compassionate leave policy ensures that managers and employees know what the guidelines cover.

    2. Indicate How Much Time Is Provided and Whether It Is Paid

    In the United States, no law requires organizations to give their employees time off for bereavement or compassionate leave, meaning that most choose to do so on their own. 

    The company’s compassionate leave policy should list the annual number of days an employee can take off for bereavement or other similar circumstances. The business should also indicate whether these days will be paid or unpaid.

    3. Consider the Emotional Aspects of Compassionate Leave

    Experiencing the death or severe illness of a family member is one of the most challenging parts of life. It can take weeks, months, or years to heal properly after losing a loved one. Similarly, severe diseases such as cancer don’t simply go away. Individuals who suffer from them often need care for several years. 

    When designing a compassionate leave policy, keep these facts in mind. Following a familial loss, employers should consider offering employees access to grief counseling and assistance handling their regular duties when returning. 

    Sometimes, having other team members chip in to handle the bereaved’s duties can alleviate their stress when returning to work. 

    4. Determine Whether Flexible Leave Should Be an Option

    Some companies have begun offering flexible paid time off, including vacation, sick, and bereavement leave. Organizations that choose to do so benefit from a reduced administrative burden, as tracking accrued time-off can be pretty time-consuming. Unlimited leave policies are also quite attractive to talented employees.

    In the context of compassionate leave, a flexible policy allows employees to take the time they need to emotionally process the loss of a loved one without being rushed back to the workplace. Those caring for a sick relative can take the time they need to take their loved one to doctor’s appointments, therapy, or other essential matters.

    5. Keep Compassion in Mind

    Everyone will suffer a loss at some point in their lives. Ensuring your employees feel cared for during a tough time is part of compassionate leave meaning. Having an employer that offers genuine support and understanding can be the difference between an employee staying with the company or looking for other opportunities where they can have a more balanced work environment. No one wants to think their employer is pushing them back to work during an emotionally devastating time.

    Outside of offering extended paid leave, the best practice is for employers to recognize the loss of an employee’s loved one by sending flowers to the funeral. Care baskets are also helpful and can assist in helping employees who don’t have time to cook after losing a loved one.

    Final Thoughts

    What is compassionate leave? Compassionate leave is used to support employees going through a tough time. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” 

    When an employee is going through a difficult time, organizations must support them through means including compassionate leave and reduced pressure in the days following their return to work. Everyone needs time to process their emotions following a loss or severe illness, and supportive employers should be there to lend a helping hand.

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    Brent Roberts
    Regional Sales Manager at Bennie

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