To perform work, employees utilise all aspects of their being i.e., emotional, physical and mental.
If the previously mentioned elements are not properly managed, it may result in employees being burnt out. Burnout is defined as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by various factors for example work overload, excessive and prolonged stress, etc. Employees who are in a state of burnout normally have lower productivity levels, something that greatly affects the overall performance of the organisation. Apart from employees being burnt out, they could always be faced with just normal fatigue that comes with the job.
To guard against this, the labour law accommodates for such through rest days or periods as well as paid leave. The circumstances that may require employees to be away from work vary i.e., medical, need for rest or attend to personal matters, etc. However, not all reasons are catered for by the labour law. A typical example is what this article speaks to and that is time off to tend to one’s family emergencies.
Normally, if the need to tend to family matters arises, employees are advised to apply for their annual leave. Some employers have what is known as compassionate leave and such days would be used for family emergencies. Many questions surrounding this type of leave are frequently asked by both employers and employees, the most common one being whether such a leave is mandatory. Let us clear the midst!
Various definitions exist, but the most common one is that compassionate leave is authorised time off from work for employees to deal with a family emergency. This is normally included in a company’s leave policies, the criteria or terms to which it applies must be clearly outlined in the same policy as well. Normally, family emergencies may be limited to funerals and the family members covered by this benefit would be immediate family only. It is important to state that all the terms are up to the employer’s discretion, for instance, the number of leave days could be +/- 3 days, supporting documents may or may not be a necessity, etc. This therefore means that compassionate leave is company specific, what applies in one company may not be the same in another.
The Employment Act which controls the employment environment by providing for basic employment rights does not include compassionate leave. The Act only includes paid leave also known as annual leave, sick leave and maternity leave. As it is, compassionate leave is an add-on benefit or entitlement at the employer’s choice. This therefore leaves the specifications of the said leave in the hands of the employer, as already alluded to above.
The employer would decide on the specific category of emergencies covered, which family members are considered, the duration of the leave, supporting documents required when applying for the leave as well as any allowance that may go with it. The law unfortunately does not mention this as an employee right or entitlement, as such it is not compulsory. In simpler terms, employers cannot be punished for not having this benefit in their organisation.
The answer to the frequently asked questions i.e., how many days per year are employees entitled to under this benefit, which family members are covered and is the benefit mandatory etc is rather simple, compassionate leave is not enforced by law. This benefit is not mandatory, employees cannot take employers to task for not providing it. It is rather an employee welfare strategy that presents employers as human and understanding.
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