Compassionate Leave by Dan Brotzel

‘Hi Barry, it’s Tanya.’

‘Oh hi Tanya, thanks for taking my call. I know you must be busy with the pharma conference…’

‘Certainly am, Barry. We most certainly are! We’re missing your input! Anyway, what can I do for you? How’s it all going?’

‘Phrr, well it’s pretty tricky, I’m afraid. I’ve managed to pin down my daughter’s location…’


‘But the challenge is going to be to get inside the compound and make her see some sort of sense.’

Half-muffled words to someone else: ‘What’s that? The client’s wants to do the confcall at nine? OK, give me two minutes and I’m there.’ And back: ‘Sorry Barry, can’t be too long. That was BVT Supplies on the line – it looks like we’ve been shortlisted for the recruitment tender after all!’

‘That’s great news, Tanya!’

‘I know! And you must take a lot of the credit, Barry. That was a really strong value statement you put together for the proposal.’

‘That’s great. It’s just-’

‘Which kind of brings me to what I have to say next, Barry. Obviously this is a tough time for you, and we need to be very clear with each other about how we can best support you.’

‘OK. Right. Do-’

‘So… I’ve obviously been thinking about this a lot. And I want you to know that everyone in the team is rooting for you here. Even Clive asked me to pass on his best.’

‘Wow. That’s very good of him.’

‘It certainly is! I wasn’t sure he even knew who you were, to be honest!’

‘Oh no. We’ve done a few-‘

‘Sure. So the thing is, you’re a very valued member of the team, Barry, you know that. And we need you, especially at a time when we’re behind on targets and there’s a lot of instability in the market…’

‘Right. And obviously I-’

‘And we want to support you the best way we can. But business hates uncertainty, Barry, I don’t have to tell you that either.’


‘And I think we both know this current remote arrangement isn’t really working.’


‘So I guess what I’m saying is I need from you some sense of timeframes here until a resumption of normal service, as it were, so we can plan accordingly. Are you going to be in tomorrow, for example, do you think? Or next week? What exactly are we looking at here?’

‘Tanya, my daughter-’

‘I know, I know, it’s tough. And believe when I tell you I’m not enjoying this conversation one iota either. But you have to understand, from the business’ point of view, your situation is something of an anomalous one.’

‘“An ‘anomalous’ one?”’

‘Right. You’re not bereaved, you don’t have a pre-existing medical condition, you’re not asking for a sabbatical… It’s not like you can get a certificate from the doctor to say, “My daughter has run off with a cult!”’ A dry quack of a laugh.

‘Tanya! I’m just-’

‘So we have to try and align what you’re dealing with here… with something that works from a business –and above all an HR – perspective. You know what a stickler Clive is…’

‘I’m sorry you-’

‘Oh don’t worry about me! Come on, it’s you we need to think of here! Now. Let me just grab the relevant email here… Right. Yes. So… you’ve had three days leave already-’


‘Compassionate leave, shall we say.’


‘You’re entitled to up to five days of that, according to the new handbook. You’ve got five days of normal leave left, plus one carried over from last year. So all in all, that’s two plus one plus five… that’s eight days. I’m sure in the circumstances, I could get that rounded up to ten days for you. How does that sound?


‘And because it’s you, Barry, I’m not going to seek to claw back any company time from your weeks of remote working either, even though I think we both know that the experiment has proven sub-optimal, shall we say, in terms of your performance.’


‘I mean, you seem to have been living out of a car for most of it.’


‘But we will of course need some sort of tangible reassurance of a return to regular working patterns from you after that, if you see what I mean.’

‘Right.’ Pause. ‘Right.’

‘Of course there’s always the career break option – you could take one, two or even three months out and the salary equivalent is deducted across the whole financial year, so you don’t experience a sudden drop in earnings.’


‘And of course the other thing we haven’t mentioned is flexible hours.’


‘Right. You basically have the right – and apologies if you know all this already, I’m sure you do – you have the right to request a change in your working hours, including fewer hours (like a 4-day week or shorter days) and compressed hours eg doing 5 days work in 4. Your employer is duty-bound to consider this request seriously, but ultimately it will come back to your line manager for approval…’


‘…Which, of course, is good old me. That’s right, another bit of paperwork to process! Obviously I’m here for you, you know that. But I would have to say, though, that such a request would be a tough call. You know better than anyone the nature of the work we do – when we’re in full pitch or conference mode, we have to be there for clients and prospects whenever they need us, so I’m just not sure how this kind of challenge would work for someone who has to knock off at 3pm twice a week or whatever…’


To someone else: ‘Are they on the line? Right, I’m there.’ And back: ‘So lots to think about there, Barry. I’ll leave you to mull the options for a wee while. Not too long though! Just make sure you keep in touch and remember we’re all thinking of you.’

‘Thanks Tanya.’

‘Speak soon. Bye for now.’


Dan Brotzel is the author of a collection of short stories, Hotel du Jack, and a novel, The Wolf in the Woods (both from Sandstone Press). He is also co-author of a comic novel, Work in Progress (Unbound). More at

Twitter @brotzel_fiction