Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms
Bereavement leave is a leave category that tracks the time employees take away from work after the death of a family member or other loved one. Developing a bereavement leave policy that’s sensitive to the grieving process while supporting your organization’s operations plays an essential role in helping employees who have experienced a loss return to work.
There are no federal mandates for bereavement leave in the United States. The state of Oregon (in the Oregon Family Leave Act) provides a mandate for employers with more than 25 employees to provide two weeks of bereavement leave per death of a family member. Other countries have more defined regulations surrounding bereavement leave—current law in the U.K. guarantees two weeks of bereavement leave for family members of all ages, starting with babies stillborn at 24 weeks.
There are no requirements to offer paid leave for bereavement. That said, many employers provide a period of paid leave dedicated to bereavement to make it easier for employees to cope with their loss and deal with the logistics of arranging funerals, resolving estates, etc. A funeral is a terrible time for an employee to realize they’ve used all their paid leave and that they’ll be taking a financial hit as well.
The amount of paid bereavement leave varies between organizations, positions, and employee pay types. Research from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans indicates that the most popular choice for paid leave in the event of the death of a spouse, child, or parent is three full working days of paid leave. The next most popular choice is five working days, giving employees a full workweek to handle logistics and providing time for emotional recovery.
Your organization will need to ensure that your bereavement leave policy answers the following questions:
Is bereavement leave issued as a standard amount, or does it vary by loss? Some organizations offer different amounts of leave based on the nature of the loss—employees might only receive one day to attend a grandparent’s funeral services, while they may be allotted a full working week to recover from the death of a more immediate family member.
What is the cap on total time off after bereavement leave? Employees and their managers need to know whether they can supplement their paid bereavement leave with other leave types. How long can they extend their leave with paid time off? How does bereavement leave affect maternity leave in the case of stillbirth?
How will bereavement policies vary by position? Will hourly or customer service employees have guaranteed paid time off? Will your organization provide flexible scheduling if paid bereavement leave isn’t provided?
Is any documentation required? While it is uncommon, some organizations ask for a funeral program, printed obituary, or other documentation to verify the bereavement leave request.
Above all, bereavement leave policies should encourage communication and understanding for employees during difficult times.