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What Is Bereavement Leave?

What Is Bereavement LeaveWhat Is Bereavement Leave
min read
August 21, 2023

Employees who lose a close family member may need a few days off work to grieve, make funeral arrangements, and get the deceased’s affairs in order. And since death is a regular part of life, every employer needs to know the answer to these two questions: what is bereavement leave, and how does it impact my employees? 

To help you answer those questions, we've put together this guide on bereavement leave. Let's dive in!

Bereavement Leave Explained

Bereavement leave is time off from work that an employee takes following the death of a close family member or friend. The purpose of this leave is to give employees time to grieve and deal with any personal matters related to the loss without having to worry about work.

Do I Have to Provide Bereavement Leave?

Federal law does not require you to provide your employees with this type of leave, but you may have state laws to deal with. 

The following states have passed some sort of law concerning time off for employees following the death of a loved one: 

However, these laws vary greatly by state. For example, in Oregon, companies with 25 or more employees must provide up to two weeks off a year after the death of a loved one. In Washington State, employees are granted three days by law. 

California recently passed a state bereavement leave policy, and as this legislation grows in popularity, more locations may follow suit.

Though your state may not require it yet, many companies choose to offer this special leave anyways as a way to support their staff during their loss. 

What Is Bereavement Leave Also Known As?

Before we get into the terms of a policy, let’s clear up what this type of leave is called. You see, it has a few different names. 

Sometimes it’s called compassionate leave or condolence leave. In addition, some companies use this term interchangeably with funeral leave, though they are technically two different things.

Funeral leave is when employees are granted time off to attend funeral services. 

Bereavement includes not just the funeral, but all the time your employees may need to grieve and take care of end-of-life details, like finalizing financial records or cleaning out a home.

How Does Bereavement Leave Work?

Since there aren't many federal rules governing bereavement, it's generally up to each employer to decide how it works in their organization. (If you’re in the states listed above, make sure to check your state’s specific bereavement leave requirements.)

Typically, once an employee notifies the human resource management team about the death of a family member, the employer approves the leave and allows the employee to take a few days off according to the terms of the company policy.

How to Create a Bereavement Leave Policy

If you don't yet have a policy for employees to take some time away from work after losing a loved one, it might be time to create one. Putting it in writing ensures that everyone is on the same page.

When writing one, don't forget to think about these things:

How Long to Offer 

How many days of leave will you provide your employees after a loved one’s death? Many companies offer three to five days, but you can adjust that number as you see fit.

Who Counts as a Close Relative

You'll need to decide which deaths employees can take leave for. For example, many employers limit it to: 

However, you can extend your policy to include aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, or other distant relatives. It’s up to you. Just make sure you’re being consistent with every employee. 

Paid Leave or Unpaid Time

Will this leave be paid or not? If you decide to offer paid time, will your employees be able to use vacation time, sick days, or other PTO to supplement their bereavement pay?

If it's unpaid leave, do you have a plan for documenting this in your payroll system? Hourly can help you with that if you don’t! The platform tracks and records all the hours your team members work (and time taken off), and issues paychecks–so you don’t have to take time away to do that yourself.

Documentation Required

What type of documentation, if any, will you require employees to provide? Do they have to prove there was a death by taking an obituary or funeral program to your human resources department when they return, or will you take their word for it?

No matter what’s in your policy, you want it to be straightforward so everyone knows what to expect. Once it's written, make sure you put this policy into your employee handbook so all staff members can find it easily.

Can You Have Eligibility Requirements for This Type of Leave?

Yes, you can. For example, you could require employees to have worked at your company for a certain amount of time before they can take advantage of this benefit. However, if you’re in a state that requires this type of leave, they may have some eligibility requirements of their own–so make sure to check those.

If not, you can also say that only full-time employees are eligible for the entire number of days, while part-time workers only qualify for a certain percentage of the time.

You may also want to limit the types of relationships that qualify for this leave. This means you might only allow employees to take this leave for the death of an immediate family member, such as a spouse, parent, or child. That way, they aren't requesting extended days off when an acquaintance passes away.

To avoid this dilemma, some employers allow one day of leave for the death of a close friend or extended family member and offer additional days for immediate family members.

Additionally, some employers require employees to use vacation, personal, or sick days for this leave if they have this time off available. This ensures employees aren't taking advantage of the policy and using it to get excessive absences from work. 

If you decide to have eligibility requirements, make sure you explain all of the details in your policy. You don't want your employees to sort through tons of fine print or hidden details while they're grieving.

How Does Bereavement Leave Impact Employees?

Offering time to grieve after a death can positively impact your employees in terms of their work and personal lives.

Employees who are allowed to grieve healthily are more likely to be productive when they return. This is because they won't be trying to bury their sorrows or bottle up their emotions, which can lead to burnout. Giving them a few days off can help prevent overwhelm and give them time to process things before expecting them to focus on their job.

The time away can also help them take care of the many details that need to be handled after a death in the family, such as making funeral arrangements or cleaning out a home. It can be tough to juggle all these responsibilities while also maintaining a full-time job.

Overall, offering bereavement leave is a way to support your employees during a difficult time in their lives.

How Does This Policy Impact My Business?

While it may seem like granting employees time off for bereavement would hurt your business, that's not necessarily the case. There are several ways in which this type of leave can benefit your company.

For starters, offering bereavement leave shows your employees that you care about them and their well-being. This, in turn, can lead to a more engaged and productive workforce. After all, employees who feel supported by their employer are more likely to be loyal and motivated.

Additionally, offering this time away can save you money in the long run. If an employee is grieving but doesn't have the days off they need, they may make mistakes or take more days off than necessary. This can cost your business money in terms of lost productivity and, in some cases, employee turnover.

So, while it may seem like offering this leave would burden your business, that’s usually not the case.

How to Support Employees While They Grieve

Losing a loved one is tricky. It may be one of the worst things that your employees will ever have to go through. As their employer, you can do your part to support them during this difficult time.

In addition to giving your employees bereavement leave, here are a few things you can do:

Encourage Them to Take the Time They Need

Many people feel guilty about taking time away from work, even if it's for a valid reason. As their employer, you can reassure them that it's okay to take the time they need to grieve. Let them know their job will be waiting for them when they return. 

Be Flexible with Their Schedule

If an employee needs to take a few days off but doesn't want to use all their bereavement leave at once, see if you can be flexible with their schedule. For instance, they may appreciate being able to work from home for a few days or come in a little later than usual.

They might also need to split their leave into two chunks. Your employees may need a few days right after the death to grieve and handle final affairs and then a couple more days when the funeral or celebration of life occurs.

Recommend Additional Resources

You can also direct employees to additional resources, such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This program offers free counseling and other support services to employees dealing with a death in the family.

Show Your Employees How Much You Care

Grieving employees often need time and space to heal. A bereavement leave policy gives them that while also protecting your company from lost productivity and high turnover rates.

By offering leave and supporting employees in other ways during this challenging time, you can show that you care about their well-being. This, in turn, can lead to a more loyal and engaged workforce. And what employer wouldn't want that? 

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