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The Fair Work Act provides Australia’s National Employment Standards (NES), which contains minimum entitlements that employers must provide their employees. One type of leave available is compassionate or bereavement leave, which enables employees to mourn and grieve for those close to them. This article will explain what it is, which of your employees can take it and the processes for providing evidence and notice.

Compassionate Leave

Compassionate leave is one type of leave available to your employees. It provides two days’ leave for employees whose immediate family member or member of household passes away or sustains a life-threatening illness or injury. This type of leave enables those dealing with a loss to cope and respond to the initial shock and make any subsequent arrangements (such as funeral plans or care plans for a sick or injured person).

Defining Family Member

The Fair Work Act defines a ‘family member’ to include:

  • current/former spouse or partners;
  • children/step-children;
  • parents/step-parents;
  • grandparents/step-grandparents;
  • grandchildren/step-grandchildren;
  • siblings/step-siblings;
  • children, parents, grandparents, grandchildren or siblings of the employee’s spouse/partner (or former spouse/partner); and 
  • other relatives who are members of the employee’s household (including aunts, uncles, cousins etc.).

Note that the above accounts for both birth and adoptive families.

Who is Entitled to Compassionate Leave?

Employees Australia-wide are entitled to compassionate leave, regardless of if they are full time, part-time or casual employees. However, full time and part-time employees can take two days of paid leave. Conversely, casual employees can only take two days of unpaid leave in most cases. 

Your employees may take these two days consecutively or separately.

In the state of Western Australia only, it is provided that casual employees are entitled to two days of paid compassionate leave where the business is covered by the Western Australia State System (which includes unincorporated partnerships and sole traders). 

Of course, employers can extend these compassionate policies to include more than two days of either paid or unpaid leave for any of their employees at their discretion. They may also extend these policies to cover the deaths or sickness of other relatives or even close friends.

Beyond the Compassionate Leave Period

In certain circumstances, such as when an employee loses a child or suffers a miscarriage, it is best to anticipate the employee taking weeks or even months away from work. For this reason, it is good practice to develop a comprehensive bereavement policy that helps employees through difficult times. 

For example, you might offer a fixed period of time off for paid bereavement leave. Alternatively, you can weigh up the need on a case by case basis.

In addition to providing time off work, employers might also want to consider implementing flexible work practices for those who take leave after the passing of a close family member. This might include reduced or flexible work hours while they come to terms with their loss. 

Do Employees Need to Provide Notice for Compassionate Leave?

Your employee who requires compassionate leave should give you notice as soon as possible. However, noting the nature of this type of leave, this notice might be after the leave period has already commenced. If possible, your employee should try to notify you of how much time off they expect they will need.

Can I Request Evidence for Compassionate Leave?

Employers can ask their employees for evidence of the need for compassionate leave. However, this request must be reasonable. Some forms of evidence that might be suitable include:

  • death notice;
  • funeral notice; or 
  • statutory declaration explaining the circumstances.

Where an employee does not provide suitable evidence, you might deny a request for compassionate leave.

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Key Takeaways

Compassionate or bereavement leave is one type of leave available to Australian employees, enabling employees to mourn and grieve for those close to them. Notably, all employees can take at least two days of bereavement leave. Your employees can choose to take these two days of leave consecutively or separately. Likewise, bereavement leave can be paid or unpaid, depending on the employment contract in question and your business’ own bereavement policies.

If you need assistance understanding leave entitlements for your employees, our experienced employment lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 1300 544 755 or visit our membership page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave is a form of leave that your employees can request and take. Also referred to as ‘bereavement leave’, it provides two days’ leave for employees whose immediate family member or household member passes away or sustains a life-threatening illness to injury.

How long is compassionate leave?

Employees Australia-wide are entitled to compassionate leave, regardless of if they are full time, part-time or casual employees. However, full time and part-time employees are entitled to two days of paid leave, while casual employees can only take two days of unpaid leave in most cases. As an employer, you may extend this leave at your discretion. Finally, it is good practice to detail these arrangements in a bereavement policy.

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