Cocoon’s guide for a compassionate leave policy

We implemented a compassionate leave policy so employers and employees can cope with anything life throws at them. Here’s how you can do the same:

Mahima Chawla
Mahima Chawla
Co-founder & CEO
Cocoon’s guide for a compassionate leave policy

There are constant, stark reminders that the world around us is in crisis. How this impacts each and every person is different, making it hard for someone to get the support they need, much less from their employer — but that doesn’t mean we have nothing at our disposal to help.

That’s why we implemented a comprehensive, paid compassionate leave policy at Cocoon, to support employees through some of life’s most challenging and vulnerable moments that might otherwise go unaccounted for. To help other organizations that feel compelled to do more, we’re also sharing our policy language below (vetted by our compliance lawyers) so you can get started.

What is compassionate leave?

"Compassionate leave gives employees the flexibility and privacy to determine their own priorities, rather than a rigid policy dictating which periods of life are 'important enough' to warrant time away from work."

Since the early days of Cocoon, a set of operating principles have guided our culture. While we already offer fully-paid parental, medical, and caregiver leaves, we know so many of employees’ most important priorities, friends and family members, and big life moments fall beyond the protections of these more typical leave types and what the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) legally covers. Compassionate leave gives employees the flexibility and privacy to determine their own priorities, rather than a rigid policy dictating which periods of life are “important enough” to warrant time away from work. Compassionate leave could be used for bereavement, pregnancy loss, legal proceedings, caring for a relation not covered by FMLA. While some organizations offer one to three days, our policy covers four weeks.

Write a paid personal leave policy in seconds

Write a paid personal leave policy in seconds

We took personal leaves a step further to create compassionate leave, a flexible, private approach to personal leave. Use our free personal leave policy generator as a starting point for a policy that prioritizes pay, privacy, and job-protection for your employees.

Our compassionate leave policy philosophy

1. Paid, protected time is critical in vulnerable moments 

The most life-changing periods of a person’s life can make or break their experience at work. The data is clear that generous, accessible parental leave policies improve retention and help attract new talent—we want to see those same benefits for people going through equally life-changing moments who may not get the same support. 

In today’s productivity-driven culture, the typical employee is expected to manage work, family obligations, their own health, and whatever curveballs life throws at them with consistent output and a smile. But what happens when their capacity is overloaded? For many, the answer is to leave the workforce entirely (something that especially impacts women and BIPOC employees), burn out in their personal and professional life, or find work that could allow them this space. We think of leave (of all types) as a tool to help employees reset their capacity and return to work when that capacity is feeling more manageable, instead of abandoning them in their moment of need. 

2. We trust our people and respect their right to privacy 

As part of our policy, no employee is obligated to share the reason for their compassionate leave. We believe each individual is the expert in their own wellbeing. It is not up to us as company leaders (or an HR team, or a manager) to judge the “severity” of another person’s situation and whether or not they may need time away. 

Our team culture trusts employees to use their own discretion when they need to use the policy. We also know that fear of judgment and the administrative burden of providing evidence of need has historically prevented employees from fully taking advantage of otherwise generous policies (pregnancy loss or mental health leave policies, for instance).

3. All employees deserve compassion 

Regardless of tenure, all full- and part-time employees are eligible for compassionate leave at Cocoon, because life doesn’t wait for you to accrue time off. This is true of all of our leave policies. While the majority of our team members live in California, we do have several remote employees across the United States. Rapidly changing state laws mean that our employees are not necessarily guaranteed safe, equitable medical care. The health and safety of our team and their families is our greatest priority. That’s why included in our compassionate leave policy is additional support for employees seeking appropriate, equitable medical care outside of their home state. This may include abortion care, racially-concordant care, or gender affirming care for our employees or their family.

Our open-source compassionate leave policy

We welcome any company that feels this policy reflects their values to adopt it for their own employees, and for People teams and company leaders to feel empowered to adapt it to best suit their needs. The point is, we want to give you a starting point so you can be prepared to act when your employees need it most. If you implement compassionate leave, we’d love to hear about it!

Compassionate leave policy example text

We believe employees should have access to paid, protected time off for pivotal life events that may fall outside of traditional leave types like parental and medical leaves. We believe it is important to empower our employees to make important life and self-care decisions privately and free from judgment or pressure. This policy explicitly acknowledges that we will interpret and apply our unlimited PTO policy in a manner such that no employee will be required to disclose the reasons for their absence to their colleagues, manager, or company leadership when their absence is for a compassionate leave purpose. The following outlines our vision for how we will implement this important benefit in any instance when employees need it: 

Employee Eligibility: All employees (full- and part-time) are eligible for this benefit regardless of their length of service with Cocoon.

Leave duration: Employees may take up to 4 weeks of paid, job-protected leave in a rolling-12 month period measured backward from the day any leave is sought. We will consider providing additional time if necessary. Leave can be taken intermittently in full-day increments.

Qualifying leave reasons (including, but not limited to):  

  • Bereavement following the death of a family member or close community member 
  • Pregnancy loss / miscarriage
  • Abortion procedures, recovery, and related travel
  • Legal proceedings (e.g. custody hearings, legal components of gender affirmation, proceedings concerning incidents of sexual violence or sexual harassment)
  • Acute mental health distress (e.g. partial hospitalization or residential treatment programs, hospitalizations, recovery from traumatic personal or social event, manic or depressive episodes)

Requesting compassionate leave: Employees do not need to provide details regarding the reasons for compassionate leave. Employees seeking compassionate leave should simply inform their manager or company leadership that they will be absent for a reason covered by this policy and PTO will be approved with no questions asked about the reasons prompting the leave. We realize employees requesting compassionate leave may have limited ability to predict the need for such leave. With that understanding, we ask employees to simply provide as much notice as they can under the circumstances. We also request that, to the extent possible, employees work with their manager or senior leadership to develop a transition and leave plan appropriate for their anticipated leave period.

Additional benefits: Cocoon strongly encourages employees to obtain appropriate medical care. If employees believe appropriate and/or equitable medical care is not available in their home state, they should contact their manager or company leadership to explore ways Cocoon can assist them in obtaining appropriate care in other locations including San Francisco. Whenever possible under our group health plans, we will permit employees to continue group health plan coverage as if they were actively employed.  

Coordination of Benefits:  When required by law, Cocoon will administer overlapping federal, state, or local paid and unpaid leave benefits concurrently with leave under this policy.  However, given the purpose and goal of this policy, we are committed to doing so in a manner that reduces as much as possible any burden employees might have to complete leave paperwork and/or respond to information requests. 

It's time to enter the next generation of employee leave