Bereavement Leave and Beyond: How to Help Grieving Employees

Grief is a deeply personal process for every employee. As employers, how we react when someone experiences a tragedy can have a profound effect on their overall experience and satisfaction with the company.

When a close family member passes away, you expect to take time off, but most US companies are severely lacking in this area. Even though many employees receive around five days, that's not always the case—or always enough.

Employees desire and expect empathy in the workplace, yet 52% of employees say their employers' attempts feel disingenuous or inconsistent. When employees don’t have the necessary time away from work to grieve a loved one, it can create resentment, leading to decreased efficiency, creativity, and job satisfaction.

Including bereavement in your time-off policy shows that you care about your employees as humans, and it helps guide them when they do experience a loss. Learn what bereavement leave is, how much time off companies usually give, and some of the other things you can do for grieving workers in their time of need.

What Is Bereavement Leave?

Also known as compassionate leave or funeral leave, bereavement leave is a policy governing a specific period of paid or unpaid time employees can take off work after losing a loved one. Some companies have bereavement policies specifically dedicated to helping employees who've lost extended family members or friends and even those who've experienced pregnancy loss.

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What Are General Bereavement Leave Guidelines?

Bereavement leave guidelines vary depending on the company and whether its employees are full-time, part-time, or independent contractors. Generally, employers with these policies may enact certain boundaries, such as:

These policies are typically standardized for all employees, so everyone follows the same guidelines and has the same amount of time to plan the funeral, travel, and process their feelings before returning to work.

Is Bereavement Leave a Legally Required Benefit?

In the US, bereavement leave isn't federally mandated, but a handful of states require employers to provide some amount of time off—either paid or unpaid—to their employees. These states include the following:

As of 2023, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, have active legislation that would require employers to offer bereavement leave. For those wondering what bereavement leave is like outside the US, some foreign countries have enacted policies at the national level, including Belgium (up to 10 days), France (up to 22 days), and Spain (up to four days).

Who Is Considered Immediate Family for Bereavement Leave?

Although this depends on the company, most employers offer bereavement leave after the death of close family members, such as:

In most scenarios, in-laws are considered to be immediate family, as well. While this has been the norm, many companies, states, and countries have started to expand their view of who's considered "immediate family."

For example, New Zealand recently passed a law that requires employers to provide three days of paid bereavement leave after a miscarriage or stillbirth, so employees no longer have to rely as heavily on their sick time.

How Long Is Bereavement Leave?

The length of time for bereavement leave varies widely by employer and state law. However, employees are often allowed to use regular PTO to extend their leave after a loss.

According to a recent Mercer survey, 97% of employers grant an average of five days of paid bereavement leave for the death of an immediate family member and 69% offer three days of paid leave for an extended family member or friend who's passed away. This same survey also revealed that 58% of organizations offer about five days of paid leave after pregnancy loss (as part of either a separate PTO policy or bereaved leave).

Is Bereavement Leave Paid?

Whether bereavement leave is paid largely depends on the time-off policies of the individual company, as well as where the organization is located. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn't require paid leave at the federal level, but some state laws mandate bereavement leave pay.

For instance, Washington's Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) policy makes paid leave available after the loss of a child under certain circumstances. Maryland's Flexible Leave Act ensures employees can use their accrued PTO for bereavement purposes.

How Does Bereavement Leave Benefit Your Employees and Your Company?

Your company's culture is partly shaped by the policies you uphold, including something as simple as PTO. Here are just a few of the benefits of having a bereavement policy:

Empathy in the Workplace

Granting bereavement leave does more than cover your employees while they're out—it's also a great way to show compassion and empathy in the workplace. Knowing you have their back can bring your employees a little peace of mind during a challenging time, especially as they're focusing on making funeral arrangements, resolving estates, and other complex or emotionally draining tasks.

In fact, the majority of employees believe empathetic leadership boosts morale and is essential to fostering an inclusive environment. A more compassionate work culture also nurtures a healthy respect between leaders and employees and better job performance.

Employee Satisfaction

Benefits have a direct impact on employee satisfaction, especially benefits that positively impact them during tumultuous times. Yet, research shows only about half of employees are satisfied with the benefits their companies offer. When a company provides thoughtful perks, people feel more seen, heard, and supported in the workplace, which can, in turn, increase employee loyalty.

Employee Productivity

Grieving employees probably aren’t going to do their best work. Most people need adequate time away before they can step back in and fully focus. Giving sufficient bereavement leave time increases the chances that your employees will return to work feeling more refreshed and mentally ready to take on their workload.

Companies with the Best Bereavement Policies

Although bereavement leave isn’t widely mandated, many of the world’s top companies have chosen to provide generous policies to their employees, such as:


Mastercard updated its bereavement policy within the last decade, offering up to 20 days of paid leave after the loss of an immediate family member and up to 10 days off following the loss of extended family. This exceeds the standard for most organizations that only give enough time to get ready for and attend the funeral. At the time of this update, the policy included all employees across the organization.


At Adobe, employees are also eligible for 20 working days off per year after a loved one passes. This paid bereavement policy includes pregnancy loss for either partner. It can be taken within 180 days of the death, either in one block or intermittently, extending time to grieve and make arrangements.


MassMutual, in a move that goes beyond the standard, allows their employees to define who qualifies as a loved one with their 15-day paid bereavement leave. Policies that extend the definition of who's considered immediate family can foster a sense of inclusion and belonging in the workplace, giving employees with nontraditional families adequate time to process a loss.

5 Ways Companies Can Support Grieving Employees

Supporting a grieving employee goes far beyond offering bereavement leave as a benefit. In many cases, it begins when a loved one has received a terminal diagnosis and extends after their passing. There’s no set timeline for grief, so a little extra leeway is extremely important. Here are five other ways you can help your employees after a loss:

1. Offer Flexible Hours

When a loved one dies, a large to-do list usually comes along with the grief. And this list isn't just time consuming or physically demanding—it can also take an emotional toll, especially if the employee is responsible for tasks like cleaning out the loved one’s home where they may have fond memories. Offering flexibility to employees during this time can ease some of the mental load while they take care of the arrangements.

2. Reprioritize Projects and Adjust Deadlines

Understand that unexpected time out of the office may mean reprioritizing projects, shifting responsibilities to other team members, and adjusting deadlines to accommodate the grieving employee. Doing so not only helps you keep work moving but also helps them feel supported. It's nice to know your teammates have your back when you're out of the office and you won't be returning to an administrative mess.

3. Offer to Update the Team as Needed

As a grieving person, having to share your story can be incredibly difficult and it can feel like you're reliving the painful event each time you tell someone what happened. Offering to update the team can remove that burden for the employee.

4. Add Mental Health Services to Your Benefits Package

Many companies have EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs) as part of their benefits package, which often includes access to counselors. These resources can offer employees much-needed outlets during hard times. Processing their grief with a professional can also help employees find healthy coping mechanisms, so they feel better equipped to resume regular work.

5. Understand That Performance May Suffer for a While

Most importantly, remember that your grieving employees are human. From brain fog and confusion to sadness, they may feel different things at different times. Even though performance may suffer, it’s important to give them grace as they navigate their grief.

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