A guide to taking bereavement leave in India

What do you know about bereavement leave? You might have heard of ‘dependant leave’ or ‘compassionate leave’, but if you plan to take time off work to care for a family member or dependent, it’s useful to understand exactly what these terms mean. 

Whether it’s due to an emergency or a long-term illness, many people need to take time off work to look after a family member. Therefore, it’s good to know about any workplace support that you may get. Similarly, if you are an employer, it’s important to have processes in place to support staff who want to take leave.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What is bereavement leave?

In India, employees (including casual staff) are eligible to request up to 7 days of unpaid leave, in the event of the death of an immediate family member. They can also request to take care of a relative who depends on them for care – referred to as a ‘dependant’. For example, it might be necessary to take time off to deal with an unexpected accident involving a dependent, to care for an ill or injured dependant.

Unfortunately, compassionate or bereavement leave in India isn’t required by law – so the last say rests with the employer. The good thing is that most companies understand that you may need time off work and arrange for a colleague to manage your tasks in your absence. Some companies even offer flexible timings and work from home options for bereaved employees.

How to arrange a compassionate leave?

If a change of personal circumstance means you are unable to carry out your duties effectively, you should begin by checking the terms of your employment contract. Additionally, you should initiate a conversation with your employer or HR department to discuss the compassionate leave policy at your workplace.

You don’t have to give notice and in the case of an emergency that might not be practical anyway. However, you should tell your employer why you are absent as soon as possible. While Indian employers are not obliged to grant compassionate leave, you can use your earned leave balance or opt for leave without pay during this period.

How can you support employees who request work leave?

The amount of time a person needs to care for someone or to grieve depends on their specific situation. There isn’t a limit to the number of times that bereavement leave can be requested and granted, provided it’s for a valid reason.

It’s difficult to hear that an employee is facing personal problems, so ensure their request is handled as sensitively as possible.  As a business owner, it’s always worth having a plan to cover unscheduled absences so that disruptions to productivity and timelines are kept to a minimum.

What happens when it’s time to return to work?

When taking time off to care for dependants, it’s important to maintain communication with your employer. As you embark on compassionate leave, agree on how often you should make contact and if that contact will be in the form of an email, phone call or face-to-face meeting.

Employers should have a policy in place for welcoming employees back into the workplace following a period of leave. It’s also worth taking a proactive approach by asking to discuss what updates or changes you need to be aware of before your first day back.

Lastly, if you’re having worrisome thoughts owing to the uncertainty of life, remember that though you can’t prevent unfortunate events such as accidents or illness, there are ways to prepare for such situations. Making sure you have good health insurance, personal accident insurance and/or insurance in case of critical illness are all precautionary steps you can take to feel secure for the future. Being adequately insured can give you peace of mind, knowing that you won’t have to bear a huge financial burden if things get tough.