Compassionate Leave in the Workplace

Employees are entitled to a whole range of leave entitlements from the workplace, and these provisions act as a framework of insurance to assist employees with issues such as injuries and illness, births and deaths in their family, and both paid and unpaid absences. The majority of leave provisions, such as annual leave or long service leave are in most cases, relatively clear and when administered correctly, lead to few disputes since they are generally taken as agreed between employer and employee. However, most disputes occur in the areas of compassionate leave, sick leave and carer’s leave. The area of compassionate leave especially is often a tricky one to talk about. This is a leave of absence that no employee ever wants to take.

Guidelines for Compassionate Leave

The provisions of the National Employment Standards in relation to accessing compassionate leave define family members as:

  • Spouse
  • De-facto Partner
  • Child
  • Parent
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Sibling

Also known as bereavement leave, the conditions of compassionate leave are that it can be taken when one of the members of an employee’s household either dies or suffers from an injury or illness which is life-threatening. Usually, employees can take compassionate leave in the case of this for any of the immediate family members above, or anyone who is a household member in their home. Providing that the employer agrees, employees can take compassionate leave for non-immediate family members such as aunts, uncles and cousins who are not household members. Any deviation from these guidelines is at the discretion of the employer.

Compassionate Leave Policies

As an employer it is important for you to follow the guidelines set out for authorising compassionate leave for employees in line with those set out by the National Employment Standards. However, some of the specific policies regarding compassionate leave will be set out by yourself. This includes things such as how long the leave of absence is – is it the same length of time for any family/household member, or does this vary? There has also been an increase of employees requesting compassionate leave to look after their pets or mourn the death of a pet – although this is not laid out in the National Employment Standards guidelines, it is up to you to make a decision.

Compassionate leave can be a sensitive subject to talk about, but it’s important for you to follow all recommended guidelines and ensure that employees are supported during difficult times.


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