Bereavement leave is leave taken by an employee due to the death of another individual, usually a close relative. 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.
Currently, there are no federal laws that require employers to provide employees either paid or unpaid leave. Also, 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 either paid or unpaid bereavement leave.
Employers, at their discretion, may maintain bereavement leave policies or practices and, in certain circumstances, may be obligated to comply with their established policy or practice. Employers must comply with bereavement leave policies that are part of individual employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements.
Below are links to state-specific pages that discuss bereavement leave laws:
Experiencing the death of a loved one can be a very difficult time. The emotional distress, handling the logistics of arranging the funeral and fitting this all in around your work schedule. Oftentimes, employees might hesitate to breach the topic about taking leave from work. Unfortunately, many organizations miss out on creating a policy that allows their employees to take time to grieve their loved ones.
What is Bereavement Leave?
Bereavement leave (also known as compassionate leave or grievance leave) is time-off taken by an employee following the death of a relative or friend. Some companies even provide time-off for their employees when their pet passes away.
Unfortunately, very few countries have formal laws for bereavement leave. Our recommendation is to be compassionate and generous to provide employees with adequate time to deal with their loss.
While there are no rules in place that mandate bereavement leaves to be paid, human resources need to consider how sensitive this time is for the concerned employee and consider making it a paid time-off to let them grieve their loss and come back to work with a better headspace.
Do You Need a Bereavement Leave Policy?
Although companies aren’t required to provide bereavement time off to their employees, it’s important to recognize the distress your employee experiences in this difficult time. Forcing them to come to work or take leave without pay could make this grieving period even harder.
By giving them paid time off work, you show the team that you care about their wellbeing. You would not be alone as 94% of U.S. employers offer paid bereavement leave through a separate policy, usually as a part of a paid time off or paid sick time plan. This small addition to your overall leave policy can help you foster a humane work environment.
1. How many days of leave entitlement should I provide?
The most common is between 3 to 5 days. But, it’s important to take into account different cultural and religious customs that employees from different faiths would have. For instance, in Judaism, the family of the deceased mourn for 7 days. It might be a good idea to use the formal policy as a mere guideline and let the line manager have the final on how many days would make sense on a case by case basis.
2. Is bereavement leave paid?
In some companies, a bereavement leave is simply considered to be a sick day and therefore it would be a paid time off per the company’s overall policy. Some others treat bereavement leave as paid time off or vacation days and others make it a distinct type of leave, providing an additional 3 to 5 days in the event of each loss. In most cases, it is a paid leave but again that is not required. Employees who want to take a longer leave can use their other paid vacation days or take their leave without pay.
As a general rule, most companies do not roll over the bereavement leave from one year to the next, unlike vacation days and sick days. This is done so that employees don’t end up accumulating unused bereavement leave. In case of multiple events of bereavement, most companies do let employees use the recommended time-off for each event.
3. Who is considered an immediate family for bereavement leaves?
Typically, immediate family consists of parents, in-laws, children, siblings, spouse, (unmarried) domestic partner, guardian, or grandparent.
Some companies even permit employees to take a day off when an employee loses their aunt, uncle, cousin, or a close friend. You should also consider providing leave when your employee loses their pet. Again, the advice here is to defer the specifics to the line manager who would be able to make the best judgement call.
4. Is bereavement leave required by law?
Most countries have no laws about providing mandatory bereavement leave. Employers can maintain specific bereavement leave policies and accommodate these leave days according to their own discretion.
Certain countries like France have laws that mandate 3 days of grievance leave for the death of a spouse or partner and 5 days of leave for the death of a child.
5. Should employees show proof of death when applying for it?
Generally speaking, no. But it depends on your policy. You can add instructions within your process document asking employees to show an obituary, funeral program, or death certificate. However, since the timelines will be constrained, you can just ask your employee to provide details of the deceased— their name, date of death, and the employee’s relationship to the deceased.
6. What if an employee asks for a longer time off than specified in my company’s policy?
Some employees may request for more leave days for bereavement depending on whether they have to travel to another place for the funeral, have long religious ceremonies to attend, or have funeral arrangement responsibilities to handle.
You can always ask the employee to take other time-offs, paid or unpaid, to extend their time of mourning and getting the paperwork in order. It is ok to let the HR or the line manager treat this on a case by case basis and be flexible with the rules.
7. Should managers be encouraged to attend the funeral services of the employee’s deceased relative?
Attending the funeral service is based on the manager’s relationship with the employee. Some employees would feel touched that their manager took the time to pay their respects while others might prefer privacy.
If the manager has a close relationship with the concerned employee, just visiting the employee can be a nice gesture. We do not recommend you have a policy on this question either way and let the decision reside with each team member.
Creating the Formal Policy Document
Having a formal policy in place makes it easier for employees to apply for bereavement leave without scrambling to figure out the procedure. It also shows your employees that you have policies in place that help them during their time of distress.
When creating the policy document, you can start by considering the following:
- Number of days allowed: The number of leave days for bereavement would depend on the internal policies you have. You should also specify when the employee can take more days— like during the death of a spouse or child, or if the employee has to travel to another place for the funeral.
- Which employees qualify for the leave: If your company also hires contractual or unionized employees, you’ll need to specify which employees would be eligible.
- Eligibility for bereavement leave: Eligibility for leave includes which kind of relative has passed away.
- Whether the leave is paid or unpaid: Make it clear whether the employee will get paid days off and how many bereavement leave days will be paid.
- Procedure for an employee to apply for bereavement leave: This can include what means of communication the employee needs to use and what details they need to provide.
Bereavement Leave Policy Template
You can use this template as a starting point and use it as a guide to make sure you are covering the most salient features of the leave policy.
Bereavement Leave Policy for XYZ Company
An employee may be granted bereavement leave in the event of the death of a relative.
This leave provides the employee with the much needed time off needed to be with loved ones, make funeral arrangements, attend the funeral, and grieve their loss.
This bereavement leave policy defines when and for how long this leave can be availed, establishes the compensation provided for the leave days, and the procedure to apply for and get approval for the bereavement leave.
All permanent employees are covered under this policy. Contractual and freelance employees may take bereavement leave without any compensation.
Terms and Conditions
The following are the terms and conditions that employees need to keep in mind when applying for bereavement leave:
- All employees are entitled to bereavement leave with pay.
- Bereavement leave is granted to all employees for a maximum of 7 days without a loss of benefits in the event of a death of any of the following family members of the employee:
- Spouse, child, foster child, step-child, parent, parents-in-law, step-parent, foster parent, legal guardian, brother, step-brother, sister, step-sister.
- Bereavement leave is granted to all employees for a maximum of 5 days without a loss of benefits in the event of a death of any of the following family members of the employee:
- Grandparents (grandmother or grandfather), step-grandparent (step-grandmother-in-law or step-grandfather-in-law) or grandparent-in-law (grandmother-in-law or grandfather-in-law) grandchild or step-grandchild, son-in-law or daughter-in-law, brother-in-law or sister-in-law.
- Bereavement leave is granted to all employees for a maximum of 3 days without a loss of benefits in the event of a death of any of the following family members of the employee:
- Aunt, uncle, cousins, nephews, or nieces.
- Bereavement leave is granted to all employees for a maximum of 1 day without a loss of benefits in the event of a death of any of the following relatives of the employee:
- Friend, neighbor, or fellow co-worker.
- If the burial occurs outside of the city that the company operates within, the employee can be granted up to 5 days of leave without bereavement pay.
- If the employee has any religious ceremonies that require additional time-off, they might be granted these extra leave days without bereavement pay.
Employees must send an email to their manager/ supervisor and the HR mentioning the following:
- Number of days (including the dates) they will be on bereavement leave.
- Name of the deceased as well as their relation to the employee.
- Any travel requirements for the funeral.
- Any religious ceremonies.
Employees who fail to comply with the procedure outlined above will not receive payment for bereavement days.
6 Smart Hacks for HRs to Make Bereavement Leaves Easier
Besides setting up a bereavement policy for your employees, it’s also important to have other structures in place to holistically help your team.
Since such leaves are unpredictable, your grieving employee may have some pending tasks at work. You don’t want deadlines to be missed while your employee is grieving. Set up a buddy system to avoid work falling from the cracks.
Ensure each employee has a buddy who has enough information about the work they do and can take up their tasks in their absence. This way, work won’t come to a standstill despite not having one of your employees in the office.
2. Schedule a one-on-one meeting with the employee after they come back from their bereavement leave.
It’s crucial to check-in with your employees after they come back from their bereavement leave and have a sit-down conversation.
As an HR, you want to understand what your employee needs to get through these tough times and understand what they require to adjust, whether this is a schedule change at work, lessening their workload or letting them work flexibly. Just asking is a good place to start.
Losing a loved one can also come with additional responsibilities that your employee needs to handle. Having a conversation with your employee can help you understand the challenges that your employee has and allow you to help them through it.
Some companies even ask their employees to attend grief counseling sessions after their loss to help them process their emotions in a healthy way and transition back to their daily routine.
3. Ensure your leave policy is introduced to the team and easy to access.
This may be a no-brainer but sometimes HR policies may be hard to find. Ensure that your employees are given a primer about your bereavement policy and new hires are provided the details during their onboarding.
You can even make it easier for your employees by storing the bereavement policy as well as the leave request form within the company’s Google Drive and shared with the team.
4. Templatize the leave request that your employees need to send.
Having to deal with the death of a loved one is tough. Informing your supervisor about it is not something you should worry about. Make it easier for your employees to apply for bereavement leave by templatizing the request.
Here’s an example of a US Government leave form request that is quick to fill out for the employee:
5. Give employees the option to work within a flexible schedule.
Sometimes, your employee may need more time away after the funeral. In addition to grief, some employees might get burdened with additional responsibility due to the loss of the relative, or have to travel for the funeral.
You can put the employee at ease by offering flexibility to their workday. Let your employees work part-time, change their work timings according to their responsibilities, or even let them work remotely.
This is especially important if your employee has lost their spouse or parent since they might have added household and familial responsibilities to deal with post-funeral. With a flexible schedule, the employee will be able to attend to their new responsibilities without worrying about having a rigid schedule at work.
6. Extend your Employee Assistance Program to cover grief counseling.
An employee assistance program (EAP) is a workplace benefit offered by some of the larger organizations. The program is designed to provide assessments and one-on-one counseling for mental health issues and substance abuse. It is typically not restricted to the work-related topics but rather extends to include the more personal concerns of the employee. The program is usually fully paid for by the employer and is free for the employee. The counseling is generally provided for by a third party, in a confidential setting, and not by a full-time employee of the company.
If you have an existing EAP in your company or are planning to institute one, make sure it includes bereavement grief counseling into the list of services covered by the program. Remember to include the EAP details in your overall leave policy document as well.
We hope this guide helps you to finally set up a bereavement leave policy.
Source: Office of Personnel Management