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What You Need to Know About Compassionate Leave in Australia

When someone close to you dies it can be challenging to show up to work. Even if you can drag yourself out of bed and into the office you may not be mentally present when you arrive. It's totally normal to get caught up in thoughts about the person who has died and struggle to focus on your daily responsibilities. Most employers in Australia recognise this, and offer compassionate, bereavement leave so people have a chance to grieve when someone close to them dies. In this post we outline the rules and regulations about compassionate leave including how to qualify and what type of events can warrant you taking time off work.

Elderly woman holding coat

What is compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave is when you are granted time off work to cope with the death of someone close to you, or someone in your immediate family.

In Australia full or part time employees are entitled to two days of paid bereavement leave, under the Fair Work Act of Australia (2009). However, much like other forms of paid leave- only full-time and part-time employees are entitled to paid compassionate and bereavement leave. Casual employees are entitled to take this same time off, but this will be classed as unpaid compassionate leave.

You can apply for compassionate and bereavement leave to deal with:

  • The death of an immediate family member;

  • The death of a household member;

  • A miscarriage or stillbirth of a child;

  • To provide support when someone in your immediate family or household is suffering from a life-threatening illness or injury.

In some cases employers will also grant compassionate leave to allow you to deal with the death of non-immediate relatives and friends.

How long does a typical employee agree to give compassionate leave for

Employees can take up to two days off work if they are eligible for compassionate leave, but it is up to the employee to decide how they intend to use the time off. Similar to paid sick leave, employer notice required for bereavement leave is typically not as much notice as is required for annual leave.

What to use this personal leave for?

Some people may opt to use bereavement leave to visit a counsellor and try and process the grief. While others may need the time to organise logistics surrounding the death including arranging or attending funeral and burial arrangements.

Likewise, employees of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent may use this time off to attend cultural obligations. The leave days do not have to be taken consecutively, but can be chosen to suit the person who is grieving. The policy is the same for all full-time, part-time, and casual employees in all Australian states and territories.

Is compassionate leave just for immediate family death or life threatening illness

Employers must provide compassionate leave if the death is within the employee's immediate family. They may also use discretion to decide if they would like to extend their policies to cover the death of other loved ones or friends, or even grant workers additional time off.

For example, in the event of the death of an employee's spouse or child, an employer may allow the worker to take more personal care over weeks or months.

Returning from personal leave

Once an employee returns from compassionate personal leave, they may not always go back to work full time. Since there is no set timeline for overcoming grief it may take weeks or months before they have processed the loss of their loved ones. An employer may offer a phased return to work or flexible hours to help their staff manage their grief in the workplace.

How do you qualify for compassionate leave?

Full or part time employees are entitled to compassionate leave if they suffer the loss of someone in their immediate family, relationship circle or household dies. The Fair Work Act defines an immediate family member (birth and adoptive) as:

  • Current or former spouse;

  • Partner or former partner;

  • Child or step-child;

  • Parent or step-parent;

  • Grandparent or step-grandparent;

  • Grandchild or step-grandchild;

  • Sibling or step-sibling;

  • Child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, or sibling of the employees' spouse or partner (or former spouse or partner); or

  • Other relatives including aunts, uncles, or cousins who are members of the employees' household.

Each individual requesting compassionate leave must provide reasonable evidence to their employer to support their request. Examples of reasonable evidence may include:

  • Death certificate;

  • Death notice or obituary; or

  • Proof that the member of the employees' immediate family or household has contracted or developed a life-threatening illness or injury – such as medical certificates.

Whilst an employee can provide evidence after the compassionate leave has started, employers can refuse to grant leave if the evidence is not produced. This information should be kept confidential unless the employer believes their employees' leave will be a danger to their life, health, or safety to themselves or other people.

Final Considerations

Compassionate personal leave is a small way employers can reduce the burden on someone who is struggling with an unexpected death, illness or injury or of a family member.

Employers across Australia are legally obliged to grant you two days paid compassionate leave if you are on a full time or part time contract. However for some, these ordinary hours may not be enough, and an employer may grant longer paid or unpaid leave in these circumstances.

How Safewill Can Help

Our team of compassionate experts can help you plan for a meaningful, affordable cremation should the unexpected occur. We can also help you minimise estate admin stress at this time, with our partner law firm; Safewill Legal.

Reach out today on1800 103 310 , or via livechat now- to find out more about how we can help you.

Last updated 09th November 2021
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Lauren Barrientos
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