Bereavement leave is time off that’s granted to an employee following the death of a close friend or loved one. It may be paid or unpaid, and the legislation surrounding it varies from state to state.
Should you offer bereavement leave?
We’d recommend offering bereavement leave if it’s possible for your company. Death is something that all of us experience, and it’s important for employees to be able to take the time and space they need to grieve.
There are a few reasons why bereavement leave is a good idea, including the following:
Your employees will remain loyal – Offering bereavement leave will help your employees think better of you and your company. Boosting employee loyalty will help you retain skilled workers and should help reduce issues in the workplace.
Risk management – Following the death of a loved one, many people have trouble focusing on work and other responsibilities. Distracted workers can be a risk on the job site, especially if you work in a high-risk industry. Bereavement leave gives employees a couple of days to gather their thoughts, enabling them to return to work in a safe, non-distracted manner.
Employees will have better job security – By offering even just a few days of bereavement leave, you can provide an excellent level of job security for your employees. They won’t have to worry about losing their job if they take a few days off to grieve or arrange a funeral.
If you don’t offer bereavement leave, you might find employees quitting without notice because they simply can’t come to work. In 2018, 88% of companies offered paid bereavement leave, so you will be in the minority if you don’t.
Is bereavement leave a legal requirement?
There are no federal laws surrounding bereavement leave, which means that it’s not legally required in most of the country. The exception is in Oregon, where all employees working at least 25 hours a week for 180 days get two weeks of paid bereavement leave.
A small number of other states and local areas have their own legislation, but it’s not common and it usually only applies to a small percentage of the workforce. Some union-represented employees are also entitled to bereavement leave as outlined in their Collective Bargainining Agreement.
Many states do allow employees to take sick or personal leave to attend funerals and mourn the loss of loved ones, even if it’s not labeled specifically as bereavement leave.
When should bereavement leave be granted?
Unless you fall under one of the few state or local laws governing bereavement leave, you have quite a lot of flexibility regarding when you grant it. Your leave policy should clearly outline exactly when bereavement leave can be taken. Consider the following:
Immediately following the death of a loved one, most employees will want at least a couple of days off to grieve. We’d strongly suggest allowing for this if possible.
Planning a funeral can be a stressful process at what is already a difficult time. Granting a few days of leave to deal with this should help your employee clear their mind and return to work ASAP.
You should allow for travel time if an employee loses a loved one in a different state or country. Many bereavement policies enable you to grant extra leave if an employee has to travel.
Cultural & Religious Needs
Some people will want to take extra time off following the passing of a loved one for specific cultural or religious observances, and you may decide to offer paid or unpaid bereavement leave for this. For example, Jewish funerals are followed by a process called Shiva, which is a seven-day mourning period that commences immediately after a burial.
Some companies also offer a few days of bereavement leave for employees to deal with post-funeral arrangements. These can include clearing out the deceased’s estate, attending probate, and other actions an appointed executor is required to complete.
It’s worth noting here that not all companies offer bereavement leave for this. Others simply allow employees to take personal leave instead.
In many cases, employees may want time off to grieve before their loved one has actually passed. This is often the case when a terminal diagnosis is given, and you may want to offer leave so employees can spend time with their loved ones while they can.
This is often separate to standard bereavement leave. Most companies that offer compassionate leave in this way also offer at least a few days leave following the death itself.
It’s very important to keep your bereavement leave flexible. Some people will require time off immediately following the passing of a loved one, while others will want to take their leave later. For example, funeral services sometimes don’t take place for a few weeks following a death.
You should also understand that employees may need to take more time off than they first thought. It’s not uncommon for people to return to work too early and to need more time off to grieve or deal with post-funeral responsibilities, and your policy should be flexible and allow for this.
Should your company have a bereavement leave policy?
Yes, all companies that offer bereavement leave should have a dedicated policy outlining how it’s applied, when it applies, and what benefits are provided. You should also specify whether or not bereavement leave is paid.
A clear policy will ensure all employees are treated equally, protecting you from discrimination claims. If your company doesn’t offer dedicated leave, you should specify this in employment contracts or other company documents to ensure employees aren’t expecting it.
What should be in a bereavement leave policy?
When you’re writing your bereavement leave policy, you need to ensure you cover at least the basics. It’s also a good idea to outline it in employment contracts.
Some things to add to your bereavement policy include:
What relationships are covered – Not all bereavement policies cover the same relationships. For example, some might only cover close family such as parents, children, and spouses. Others cover siblings, extended family, and other loved ones.
We’d suggest clearly listing who’s covered. You can also use blanket statements to simplify your policy. For example, you might cover all types of parents, including biological parents, grandparents, step-parents, and even the parents of an employee’s partner.
Payment – While it’s not a legal requirement in most places, many companies choose to offer paid bereavement leave. Ensure the pay rate is clearly outlined in your policy, even if you can only offer unpaid leave.
How to request leave – Many employers trust their employees and accept their word as good enough. However, it’s not unusual to request some form of documentation such as an online obituary or service book. It is not good practice to request a death certificate, as these usually cost between $6 and $25, depending on your state and region, and can take over a month following the death to be recieved by the employee. Be clear about how to request time off, how long can be taken, and what steps employees need to take.
The amount of time that can be taken – Some companies only provide a day or two of bereavement leave, but most offer at least three days to a week. You can also offer variable leave according to an employees position, their relationship to the deceased, travel needs, and more. Ensure your policy outlines how much leave can be taken and whether you offer a flat rate or variable leave depending on the circumstances.
Combining different types of leave – Your leave policy could allow employees to combine their bereavement leave with other types of leave, such as sick leave or unpaid personal leave. You should outline how much leave an employee can take at once and what the rules are for combining different types of leave.
Company actions – You can also include information about the actions you will take as a company when an employee experiences the death of a loved one. For example, you could offer a day of leave for all employees to attend the funeral, or provide a small sympathy gift for the affected employee and their family.
Useful resources – It’s also a good idea to list useful resources in your bereavement leave policy so that they are easily accessible to your employees. These could include information about Employee Assistance Programmes, suicide prevention services, and links to other policies.
Is bereavement leave the same as funeral leave?
No, bereavement leave isn’t the same as funeral leave. They are similar, but employers offering funeral leave will only let employees take time off for the funeral.
Although most companies aren’t legally required to offer bereavement leave, it’s still good practice to let employees take time off when they suffer a loss. Bereavement leave can be paid or unpaid, and you need to ensure you clearly outline exactly who can take it and how it’s requested in a bereavement leave policy.