How should HR best manage employee leave policies?

Lucie Mitchell investigates the growing number of specific leave policies and asks why having many specific policies is better than one overarching compassionate leave policy.

Sad, Depressed woman


As Covid restrictions ease, employees are starting to return to the workplace, but many will have suffered a great deal of personal stress or loss as a result of the pandemic. It’s therefore crucial that employers offer the right support and enable employees to access the leave available to them when they need it most.

Some organisations are now operating a variety of different employee leave policies, covering many forms of leave to ensure everyone is supported no matter what the circumstances.

“Recent debates in the media have highlighted the demand for more variety of leave, including for menopause or for grandparents who are also caretakers or guardians of grandchildren,” remarks Suzanne Hurndall, relationship director at hr inspire. “Different types of leave should be available for employees as part of an overall toolkit to help improve the wellbeing of staff as and when they need access to more time off work.”

Channel 4 recently launched a new pregnancy loss policy, which offers employees two weeks’ leave on full pay, paid leave for medical appointments, flexible working and many other resources to support their employees.

Moments that matter

Education charity Teach First has implemented an extensive range of different leave policies to reflect the ‘moments that matter’ to individuals. These include numerous family leave policies, carers leave and a variety of different bereavement leave policies.

“In these ‘moments that matter’ we do not want our employees worrying – as these will be emotionally challenging times and we want to offer as much support as possible,” says Jay Nash, Teach First’s director of HR. “We operate clearly defined leave periods that are automatically granted with no questions asked, so employees can focus on themselves and their families at times of need and line managers can focus on supporting their direct reports rather than negotiating leave.”

The charity has also enhanced its parental bereavement leave policy in recognition of the fact that, while dealing with any bereavement is difficult, the death of a child is among the most devastating events that people can face.

“While there is a legal entitlement for bereaved parents to be absent from work for up to two weeks when their child passes away, we double this entitlement to 20 days and will continue to pay normal pay during parental bereavement leave. This is a recognition of the support and time we know bereaved parents will need.”

Compassionate leave

Yet does having so many different policies make it more complicated for HR to keep on top of them? Would it be simpler to implement just one compassionate leave policy that encompasses all these potential needs and can flex depending on the individual circumstances?

“Whilst on the surface it may appear more straightforward to offer a single, overarching compassionate leave policy of ‘up to x days’ paid leave, our experience is that this results in fewer individuals accessing the support and leave available to them at times when they need it the most,” comments Nash. “By being explicit in our approach to compassionate, emergency and other leave we make sure our employees are clear on the available support and not afraid to either ask for or take the leave offered.”

Hurndall argues that different types of leave could form part of one large policy or could be broken into singular policies – and the best way to approach this is entirely dependent on the business itself. “SMEs, for example, may find it easier to centralise all data relating to employee leave and explain the policy in detail as and when an employee requests it,” she says.

Wellness Action Plans

She adds that having all policies relating to employee leave in one place means the process is transparent for all workers and HR can easily locate and update it to minimise the risk of any ambiguity.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to employees needing unexpected time off work, so it is better to have a policy in place that applies to a range of leave circumstances,” she remarks. “Employees want to be supported by their employers, so it’s important to remember that situations will differ from individual to individual. Therefore, it’s essential that employee leave forms part of an overall Wellness Action Plan, so employers can make situational tests when requests for time off are submitted.”

This kind of plan also means that employers can offer care in their employees’ time of need and provide wellbeing check-ins when an employee is absent, she adds.

“Any situation that requires unexpected time off will undoubtedly impact mental health and wellbeing, so having this document in place means managers can support and signpost their team to ensure that their work is a safe place.”

Offering this kind of support will also help to strengthen the relationship between employers and their staff, says Kate Palmer, HR advice director at Peninsula. “Employers who respond well to the individual circumstances of their employees will foster stronger employee relations, which can be crucial in maintaining their productivity and loyalty to the company.”

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