It’s an undeniable fact of life. At some point, we all will lose someone we love—a parent, a spouse, a child, a friend. While the rest of the world continues goes about business as usual, we will need time to grieve, without outside distraction.
That’s why more employers are formalizing policies around bereavement leave, so, instead of worrying about their jobs, impacted employees can take time to honor the person they lost, mourn that loss, and heal.
What is bereavement leave?
Bereavement leave is temporary, paid time off granted to employees after the death of an immediate family member, so they can deal with the memorial, finances and legal manners, and most importantly, have time to grieve.
Are there federal or state laws mandating bereavement leave?
Although the Fair Labor Standards Act does not require employees to offer paid time off to mourn the death of a loved one, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 60 percent of all employees and 71 percent of all full-time employees are offered bereavement leave by their employers. Oregon is the only U.S. state in the country that mandates bereavement leave. This state legislation requires employers with more than 25 employees to pay employees for the first three days of bereavement (beginning 24 hours after the death), and allow them to add any accrued time off, like PTO or vacation days, to that leave.
Although it may not be required, most companies recognize the need to offer some sort of support to employees who experience loss. Even organizations without a bereavement policy in place allow employees to take unpaid time off when someone close passes away.
Who qualifies as immediate family?
Although it varies from company to company, most organizations classify “immediate family” as spouses/domestic partners, parents/in-laws, siblings, legal guardians and children (birth, foster, adopted, step), as well as grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces/nephews and cousins.
In most cases, organizations with bereavement policies offer longer leave periods when an employee loses a spouse, parent, or child than they do for other types of family relationships.
How long should bereavement leave last?
When identifying bereavement leave policies and timeframes, employers have to consider everything that will likely be required of their employees if a family member dies.
An employee who has experienced the death of a loved one often needs to help with final arrangements; wills, legal and financial documents; manage the property of the deceased; and contact extended family, friends and life insurance providers. They also may need to travel to a different city, state or country.
At the same time, they have to process their own grief, and adjust to the loss, while helping other family members do the same.
Typically, organizations offer three to five paid days away from work, starting the day after the loss, for employees who have lost immediate family, as well as allow them to use vacation days and PTO to extend the leave to up to two weeks. If the employee lost a close friend or member of his or her extended family, paid bereavement leave is typically one day, with the opportunity to use vacation days and PTO to extend that timeframe, as well.
Recently, organizations have begun rethinking their approach to this benefit and have begun revising their bereavement policies to include more paid days away, as well as adding guidelines around offering flexible work schedules in the weeks that follow the loss.
What does a typical bereavement policy include?
Because bereavement leave is not regulated, policies vary from organization to organization. But, as with other HR programs, it is important to have a clearly written policy in place that is well understood by managers and employees alike, discussed in onboarding, and easily accessible on the company intranet or other employee site.
Here is a sample of a basic bereavement leave policy:
Organization Bereavement Leave Policy
On behalf of our organization, we each offer our condolences and support as you go through this difficult time of mourning. Losing someone so dear is incredibly difficult. This document is intended to clarify our organization policies and procedures regarding bereavement leave due to the death of a loved one.
During this difficult time, we know you need to take time away from work for the following:
- Arrangements for the departed
- Memorial and funeral services and receptions
- Legal and financial documentation
- Personal mourning and reflection
- Other activities related to the passing of a loved one
Bereavement leave for immediate family members
Our organization offers five days of paid time off for bereavement leave after the death of an immediate family member for both full-time and part-time employees. If you need additional time beyond the five days, you can request up to five days of additional time through your manager using any accrued paid time off or by taking unpaid leave.
Immediate family members are defined as the following:
- Spouse or domestic partner
- Child (birth, foster, adopted, step)
- Grand or great grandparent
- In-law (mother, father, son, daughter
- Aunt or uncle
- Niece or nephew
Bereavement leave for other loved ones
In the event of the loss of extended family or close friends, we recognize the need for grieving and provide two days of paid time off for bereavement leave for other loved ones. This includes both full-time and part-time employees. Any person unspecified as immediate family is considered “other loved ones.”
If you need additional time beyond the two days, you can request additional time off through a manager using any accrued paid time off or up to five days of unpaid leave.
Organization bereavement leave procedures
If you have just lost a loved one, please talk to your manager to request bereavement leave. Your manager or a representative from human resources will approve your leave request and help with any other necessary details.
If you would like to request additional time off, please talk with your manager to request an extension of your bereavement leave. This extension may be unpaid if you do not have enough paid time off to use toward an extended leave. Please follow these steps to begin your bereavement leave
Why bereavement leave matters
While employers can’t take the pain away from a loss, or prevent the inevitable, they can be there for employees with a little flexibility, time and support when the lose someone they love.
A formalized bereavement policy is a good place to start.