Bereavement Leave

What Is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave is a workplace-offered policy that allows employees to take time off after the death of a family member or other loved one. To help employees return to work, it’s important to develop a bereavement policy that supports your organization’s operations while also being sensitive to the grieving process.

Is Bereavement the Same Thing as Compassionate Leave?

Bereavement leave and compassionate leave are often used interchangeably, although definitions may vary between countries and companies. Generally speaking, compassionate leave encompasses a wider range of situations, such as caring for a sick loved one or attending to a family emergency.

Is Bereavement Leave Legally Required?

Bereavement leave regulations vary between countries and circumstances. For instance, employees in the UK have the right to take a “reasonable” amount of unpaid time off (although some employers may offer pay) if a dependent who is not their child passes away. But in cases of parental bereavement leave, eligible parents can legally take at least two paid weeks off.

In contrast, there are no federal mandates for bereavement leave in the United States. However, certain states have enacted their own regulations to protect employees who need to take a leave of absence following a loved one’s passing.

Which States Require Bereavement Leave?

The following states currently require some form of bereavement leave:

Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have also introduced legislation regarding bereavement leave. Additionally, some cities have local ordinances that require certain employers to offer bereavement leave.

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Is Bereavement Leave Paid or Unpaid Leave?

Organizations are not legally required to offer paid bereavement leave. That said, many employers choose to do so 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 will be taking a financial hit as well.

Benefits of Offering Paid Bereavement Leave as an Employer

Paid bereavement leave not only benefits employees but can also help employers:

How to Use Bereavement Time Off

Depending on state bereavement laws and company policies, employees may take time off to grieve, make funeral arrangements, or attend to family or legal responsibilities after the death of an immediate family member, close relative, friend, or even a pet.

Note that not all policies require time off to be taken on consecutive days. Some companies will allow employees to take bereavement leave whenever they need it, while others may give them a certain number of bereavement days to use within a particular time frame (for example, 12 to 18 months from the time of their loved one’s death).

How to Request Time Off for Bereavement

Employees should always consult their company’s handbook first. But generally, many workplaces require employees to send their request in an email or typed note to their HR department.

Some companies may ask employees to fill out a form and provide proof of their loss, such as an obituary, funeral program, or death certificate. They may also be asked to guide their team on how to complete any outstanding projects or tasks in their absence.

How Much Paid Leave Should a Bereavement Leave Policy Include?

The amount of paid bereavement leave varies between organizations, positions, and employee classifications. However, the most common offering is three days of paid leave. Some employers offer five days to give employees a full workweek to handle logistics and provide time for emotional recovery.

Employers should draft bereavement policies based on state and local laws, company size, and the needs of their workforce. Policies often take into account other benefits employees are entitled to, such as sick time or personal days that may also be used for bereavement.

What Else Should Be Included in a Bereavement Leave Policy?

Organizations should clearly define bereavement leave for employees by drafting a concrete policy that covers the following:

Number of Days Off

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. Other companies may offer a standard number of days no matter who the bereaved person (or animal) is.

Cap on Total Time Off

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 PTO? How does bereavement leave affect maternity leave in the case of stillbirth?

Consideration for Employment Status

Will hourly or customer service employees have guaranteed PTO? Will they be offered flexible scheduling if paid bereavement leave isn’t provided?

Required Documents

While it is uncommon, some organizations ask for a funeral program, printed obituary, or other documentation to verify the bereavement leave request.

Additional Employee Benefits

When an employee asks for bereavement leave, employers can offer guidance on how to take advantage of any additional resources. These might include an employee resource group, flexible scheduling for a certain amount of time, or access to counseling or mental health resources.

Above all, bereavement leave policies should encourage communication and offer support to employees during difficult times.

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