Agreat wailing and gnashing of teeth took place recently when Zayn Malik resigned from the ultra-successful British boy band One Direction.

What do you mean “Zayn who?”

Zayn, who was always destined to be a singer, (just as Benedict Cumberbatch was destined to become an actor - it’s all in the name you see), left the boy band citing stress and the fact that he’d allegedly been seen holding hands with a young lady who was not his girlfriend (Perrie Edwards, of Little Mix…who? I hear you ask).

In turn Peninsula – the employment, HR and health & safety service – received nearly 500 hundred calls from employers asking about compassionate leave requested by staff too distraught to come into work due to this devastating news.

So when is compassionate leave appropriate?

Firstly, there is no legal obligation on employers to give any leave, in any circumstances, except for ‘time off for family and dependants’ allowing an employee time off to deal with an ‘emergency’ involving a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or someone who depends on the employee for care.

These have to be genuine emergencies – so, for example, parents should always put in place contingency plans for when the childminder is sick or taking an elderly relative to the hospital for a routine appointment.

Therefore, compassionate leave is at the discretion of the employer. Some employers deal with the issue in a staff handbook and these tend to limit the relationship to close family members.

Those falling outside this definition may be subject to the member of staff being allowed unpaid time off or having to take holiday to, for example, attend the funeral of an uncle or family friend.

The ACAS site has some advice on the subject and envisages that the question of compassionate leave will arise in situations surrounding the death of a person – not the departure of a 22-year-old from a pop group or even the death of a beloved pet.

So, it is highly unlikely that compassionate leave will apply to anything other than close family bereavements and those asking for leave outside those tight parameters should think about asking for unpaid time off or using holiday, however distressing the situation.

Ian Pearson is an employment solicitor with AmicusLaw Commercial. AmicusLaw is based at Rumwell Hall near Taunton and also has branches in Bridgwater, Minehead and Yeovil. Visit www.amicuslaw.co.uk or call the advice line on 01823-462500.