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Practice dilemma: Compassionate leave for a non-relative

One of our salaried GPs has just lost her friend to cancer. She has asked for compassionate leave. We usually only agree to leave when a family member dies. What should we do?

There's no specific legal right to compassionate leave when someone close to you dies although often employers will have a policy setting out the circumstances. These will include when it will be granted, the amount of time off and whether the time off will be paid or not.

In the absence of a policy, or if her request falls outside the policy, you should not necessarily refuse her request and instead act with sensitivity and common sense.

Friends are often excluded from compassionate leave policies to avoid opening floodgates for others' requests, but depending on the specific circumstances it may be appropriate to exercise your discretion to allow a short amount of time off. Provided your discretion is exercised reasonably at all times, refusing another person's request should be okay.

Remember that where a spouse, child, parent or co-habitee dies, employees are entitled to a reasonable amount of time off in the event of their death as ‘domestic incident leave' although this is not paid.

Employees who are grieving, for a friend or family member, may also wish to take annual leave at short notice, which should be accommodated as far as possible, and also be aware that depending on the circumstances they may take a period of time off as sickness absence.

Alison Graham is a healthcare employment lawyer at Veale Wasbrough Vizards.

Alison Graham is a healthcare employment lawyer at Veale Wasbrough Vizards.