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Bereavement Leave

For many, questions about bereavement leave arise suddenly. Having answers readily available helps alleviate stress at a time when those that have lost a family member or loved one need to focus on the grieving process. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about bereavement leave.


What is bereavement?

According to Dictionary.com, bereavement for our purposes is defined as “a period of mourning after a loss, especially after the death of a loved one” and “a state of intense grief, as after the loss of a loved one.” Because each individual’s experience when they lose a loved one is different, each individual may take more or less time to bereave the loss.


What is bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave is leave taken by an employee due to the death of family member or loved one. The time is usually taken by an employee to grieve the loss of a close family member, prepare for and attend a funeral, and/or attend to any other immediate post-death matters.


Are all employees entitled to bereavement leave?

Currently, there are no federal laws that require provide employers to provide employees either paid or unpaid leave. The federal government may require federal and contractors employers to provide employees with bereavement leave.

Only one state, Oregon, has passed a law requiring employers to provide bereavement leave (it took effect January 1, 2014). The other 49 states, plus the District of Columbia, do not require employers to provide employees bereavement leave.

Although state’s may not specifically require employers to provide bereavement to employees, employers may be required to allow employees to take personal, sick, or vacation leave to attend a funeral and/or bereave for the lose of a family member or loved one. Visit our state-specific leave law discussions to determine whether other leave laws may cover funeral and/or bereavement leave.


Can employer allow employees to take bereavement leave?

As noted above, private employers, except those covered by Oregon’s Family Leave Act (OFLA), are not required to allow employee to take leave or breaks to bereave the loss of a family member or loved one. However, employers may voluntarily allow employees to take bereavement leave. Larger employers typically have employee handbooks, manuals, or policies that provide employees with bereavement leave. Although many smaller employers may have employee handbooks, manuals, or policies that provide employees with bereavement leave, those that do not may have the practice of allowing employees to take time off to bereave. Information about and copies of handbooks, manuals, or policies are typically available from managers, human resource managers or specialists, and/or supervisors.

If an employer develops a policy or practice to provide employs time off to bereave, government agencies (e.g. departments of labor) and courts typically require the employer to comply with the terms of their policy or practice. Also, employers may be required to permit employees who are members of unions to take bereavement leave if their collective bargaining agreements allows it.


Do employers have to pay employees for bereavement leave?

If employers allow their employees to take leave to bereave a loss, employers are not required to pay employees for the leave time unless obligated to do so because of a collective bargaining agreement or employment agreement. Employers may voluntarily develop policies or practices that provide employees with paid bereavement leave. If an employer develops a policy or practice to provide employs time off to bereave, government agencies (e.g. departments of labor) and courts typically require the employer to comply with the terms of their policy or practice.


Can employers provide different employees different bereavement leave benefits?

Employers may give different bereavement leave benefits to different classifications of employees as long as the differences do not result in the an employee being discriminated against based on a protected class. For example, an employer may allow a exempt employee, manager or supervisor to take five (5) days off to bereave but only three (3) days for non-exempt or hourly employee. Similarly, employers may allow full-time employees to take paid bereavement leave but only allow part-time employees to take unpaid leave.


What family members are covered by bereavement leave?

Because neither the federal or state laws, other than Oregon, require private employers to provide employees with leave to grieve the loss of a family member or loved one, employers are permitted to determine which family members or loved ones are covered by their bereavement leave policy. Immediate family members and loved ones that are frequently included in bereavement leave policies include:

  • spouse
  • parent, including:
    • biological parent
    • adoptive parent
    • foster parent
    • parent-in-law
    • step-parent
    • parent of a same-gender domestic partner
    • a person with whom the employee has or is in a relationship of in loco parentis
  • child, including:
    • biological child
    • adopted child
    • step-child
    • foster child
    • child of a same-gender domestic partner
  • grandfather
  • grandmother
  • grandchildren
  • domestic partners

Other family members and loved ones that covered by leave policies, but less frequently, included:

  • siblings
  • aunts and uncles
  • nieces and nephews
  • individuals with whom the employee had an extended close relationship
  • individuals who live in the same home

How much leave do employees receive to bereave the loss of a family member or loved one?

Because neither the federal or state laws, other than Oregon, establish the amount of time off an employee may take off to bereave, private employers are permitted to determine at their own discretion how much leave the employee may take. At minimum, employers typically allow employees to attend the funeral of a family member or loved one, but frequently permit employees to take more time.

Also, employers may allow employees to take different amounts of time off depending on how closely associated the employee was to the loved one. For example, an employer may allow an employee to take three (3) days of bereavement leave for the death of a child, but only one day for the death of a niece.


What proof is required that a family member or someone close to me has died?

Some employers may require employees to provide evidence that family member or loved one has died to be allowed to take bereavement leave. Such may include an obituary, funeral program, or death certificate.

Because the evidence may not be available before an employee needs to take the leave, employers who require evidence typically allow employees to provide the evidence after the leave it taken. If an employee fails to provide the necessary evidence, an employer may refuse to pay the employee for the leave, if the policy gives the employee proper notice, or otherwise discipline the employee.


Are bereavement and funeral leave the same?

Bereavement and funeral leave are similar but not the same. Some employers provide employees to take leave for the duration of the funeral only. They do not allow employees additional time to grieve the loss of the loved one. Employers policies may call this type of leave either funeral leave or bereavement leave. Bereavement leave typically allows employees to take time off to attend the funeral but also allows the employee to take additional time to grieve.


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