When Should You Write A Compassionate Leave Policy?

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Compassionate leave is employer-granted time off of work for a personal situation, usually to grieve a death or handle a family emergency.

Although sometimes referred to as bereavement leave, compassionate leave differs in that it can be used for a wider variety of situations. On the other hand, bereavement leave is typically offered for workers to attend a funeral or grieve the death of a loved one.

Everyone faces hard times at one point or another. Your employees will inevitably have personal situations arise that require their attention more than work does. 

That’s why having a compassionate leave policy in place can be an excellent choice for companies wanting to prioritize the needs of their employees. Compassionate leave gives just enough wiggle room for workers to tend to personal issues without worrying about repercussions from taking time away from work.

Is Compassionate Leave Required?

No, compassionate leave isn’t required for employers to put in their compensation packages.

The federal government does not, in any way, require employers to provide compassionate leave to their employees. This includes the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which is a federal law governing fair workplace practices and leave policies. It does not detail any requirements for compassionate leave.

Now, bereavement leave is relatively commonplace in the public sector. Still, it’s not required. Employers can choose whether to give workers unpaid or paid bereavement leave, how long to allow for each situation, and who to offer the benefit to, if they offer it at all.

Although the federal government doesn’t require bereavement leave, some state governments do. For example, California requires employers with five or more employees to provide up to five days of bereavement leave for workers.

However, no state governments require compassionate leave. 

Despite it not being required by law, many companies choose to offer compassionate leave anyway. Here’s why:

  • Employees feel valued: When an employer gives their workers the space to grieve or handle personal situations and emergencies, those workers feel seen, heard, and valued. This alone can boost employee morale and make the workplace feel compassionate and encouraging.
  • It gives employees financial security: Tough times can lead to many what-ifs. When an employee has to take time off work to handle an emergency, they’ll likely worry about losing money they would have made at work. Paid compassionate leave can help reduce the financial impact of missing work so employees can focus on their personal situation.
  • It can boost productivity: When employees have the time needed to deal with personal situations, they can feel ready to return to work and complete their tasks productively. 
  • It can help with recruitment and retainment: Compassionate leave is a sought-after benefit. Adding it to a compensation package can motivate people to join and remain with the company.

When To Create a Compassionate Leave Policy

Compassionate leave policies can be created at any time in any size business.

However, they’re often best for smaller companies that are just starting out. If your company doesn’t yet have a paid leave policy in place, compassionate leave is a good alternative. It can encompass a broad range of situations that come up in your workers’ lives.

On the other hand, if you’re a larger company that already has several forms of paid leave in place, like bereavement leave, jury duty leave, or PTO, you probably don’t need a compassionate leave policy on top of those.

Adding one at that stage might actually complicate things more than necessary for HR, and it could lead to the problem of having too many potential days off, which could interfere with scheduling.

If you believe that a compassionate leave policy is something your company should implement, be sure to detail its scope in a transparent policy to avoid misuse.

What’s Included in a Compassionate Leave Policy?

Compassionate leave policies can look different between companies in terms of their specific offerings. Still, all compassionate leave policies should outline the following components to define a clear scope.

Paid or Unpaid?

There’s no right or wrong answer as to whether compassionate leave should be paid or unpaid by the company. However, paid compassionate leave is something to consider, especially if you don’t already pay for bereavement leave.

Dealing with a situation that warrants compassionate leave is difficult enough for an employee. Unpaid leave could make them choose between whether to return to work when they aren’t ready and going without pay for longer than they can afford. 

Meanwhile, paid compassionate leave makes taking time off a little easier on employees. You can always set a cap for paid time, like three days, and offer the rest of your allowed compassionate leave as unpaid time if your budget doesn’t allow for a fully paid leave.

Covered Circumstances

What circumstances will constitute compassionate leave coverage? Will you create a relatively open policy that employees can use at their discretion or limit compassionate leave to specific circumstances, like:

  • The death of a loved one, if the company doesn’t already have bereavement leave
  • Caring for a loved one in a mental or physical health crisis
  • Handling an emergency involving a loved one, like an arrest or abuse situation
  • Supporting a loved one during a difficult time
  • Caring for a dependent who becomes ill or injured
  • Rehoming an aging parent into an assisted living facility

Your company can include or exclude any situation, but it’s a good idea to have at least a few examples of circumstances covered under compassionate leave in your policy for employees to refer to. 


Set clear boundaries around the amount of time allowed for compassionate leave, specifically outlining whether the full duration or a portion of leave is paid.

Also, consider whether to allow extensions when needed. For example, will you allow an additional week if an employee’s circumstances warrant it? Or will you cap how much compassionate leave is available per year, allowing employees to use what they need out of that allotted time?

Requesting Time Off

Include how your employees must request time off for compassionate leave in your policy. This is a crucial element to ensure a consistent process for managing and granting requests. Scheduling can also be simplified when leave requests have the right amount of oversight.

What a Generous Compassionate Leave Policy Might Look Like

Compassionate leave looks different at every company. If you want your company to be competitive, you can draw inspiration from what other companies are doing with their bereavement policies.

For example, Microsoft offers five days of PTO for the death of a loved one plus unlimited discretionary time, while Apple provides up to two weeks of bereavement leave. 

A generous compassionate leave policy would mimic something similar to these models, like a couple of weeks of paid time off or a flexible time off policy that allows employees to use the time they need to handle their specific situation. 

Still, even a few days of compassionate leave is better than none. It’s better to focus on what you can reasonably offer than providing an unsustainable benefit that you may need to drop in a year or two.

Ultimately, It’s About Flexibility

Federal or state governments don’t require compassionate leave.

Still, there’s a reason that bereavement leave is required in some states for companies to offer their employees: It’s the right thing to do. 

Employees deserve to have time to manage emergencies that happen unexpectedly without worrying about what will happen at work in their absence or how they’ll work around lost wages during an already difficult time. Compassionate leave helps fill in those gaps, providing workers with flexibility to balance their work and personal lives.

Flexibility is a number one priority for workers, as it should be. Work shouldn’t have to come before loved ones and personal matters. 

Consider providing benefits like compassionate leave or other perks that offer a similar level of flexibility, like family leave, flexible time off, and paid time off.

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