David Cameron is taking two weeks’ compassionate leave afterthe death of his six-year-old son, Ivan. It is the very least he will need.
Yet the question of compassionate leave, namely how much itis reasonable to take, is one not clearly defined in law.
This omission may leave the employee having to debate whatis a reasonable length of absence with their employer at a time when they feelmost vulnerable.
The Directgov website says only that an employee can taketime off to make funeral arrangements as well as to attend the funeral. Thereis nothing about the period in between. This implies that a hard-heartedemployer is entitled to order the bereaved back to work.
It is true that many employers do have compassionate leavearrangements but, as Directgov reminds us, they do not have to agree to anyrequest.
What has emerged is a norm of just five days, which for somefaiths is insufficient to cover periods of mourning, and certainly not enoughfor humanity generally.
The problem was exacerbated in 2004 by an employment appealstribunal which ruled that there was no legal right to compassionate leave as aresult of bereavement, regardless of whether the deceased is a dependent or afriend.
Certainly the production of a doctor’s certificate, citing”bereavement reaction”, is no guarantee of employment protection. The woman inthe 2004 case was sacked and lost her appeal.
Despite this, the Conservative Party leader is setting the correctexample by announcing a two-week absence from work.
One hopes that employers will view Cameron’s actionspositively and two weeks will become an acceptable minimum period ofcompassionate leave.