Bereavement leave can provide a critical lifeline for healing
Life can throw some hard curve balls sometimes. Few are more devastating than the passing of a loved one. There's so much to do – arranging the funeral, attending to finances, and even traveling if the loved one is out of your area. This doesn't even take into account the emotional toll. During these difficult times, many companies offer bereavement leave policies to allow you time to grieve and cope.
Some companies have a more comprehensive bereavement leave policy than others, detailing everything from how many days are available to whether it's paid or unpaid and who qualifies as an immediate family member. Other companies handle bereavement on a case-by-case basis. When you're faced with dealing with bereavement leave, it's important to understand your rights and options at work.
In this article, you'll learn about bereavement leave and how it works. We'll also dive into some of the more frequently asked questions surrounding how to handle this difficult time.
What is bereavement leave?
When you're faced with handling the passing of a loved one, the company you work for likely has a plan in place to support you. The bereavement leave plan will be specific to your company, as there are no federal guidelines in the US dictating how employers take care of staff members who need to take time off work during this difficult time. The main thing you'll need is time - time to grieve and time to work through logistical necessities - without the added stress of doing your job.
Many employers recognize the need to support their employees. In fact, companies that prioritize employee well-being and positive work cultures often build their promises to staff around being supportive. By creating a more empathetic and supportive work environment, your company can increase staff productivity and reduce attrition. This is mostly because employees tend to be loyal when they're taken care of.
Variation from employer to employer
There is no one-size-fits-all concept for bereavement leave. Depending on your company, the eligibility criteria, time available, and whether the time is paid or unpaid can vary. As you dive into the policies of your company, here are the things to look for:
Eligibility: Many companies define who qualifies for bereavement leave and go so far as to specify relationships considered as immediate family members
Time: The policy should also specify how much time is offered for bereavement leave - it's generally three days, but some companies offer as many as five days
Paid or unpaid: There's no guarantee that your bereavement leave will be paid; some companies simply promise that you won't be hassled during the time off
Notification: No matter how your company lays out the bereavement policy, the only way to take advantage of it is to notify them - the policy should tell you how to do that
It can be hard to balance time, grief, and your job. Talk to your manager or someone in the human resources department to find out what you need to do to use the provisions of the bereavement policy.
Who qualifies for bereavement leave?
If your great aunt, twice removed, has passed away, you probably won't be able to use bereavement leave to attend her funeral. Bereavement leave policies usually only apply to immediate family members, but can include extended family, depending on your company. Immediate family includes:
Extended family relations are:
Aunts and uncles
Sometimes, you'll run into a situation where bereavement leave applies to special cases, like close friends and significant others (e.g. boyfriends and girlfriends). The employers who provide time off for these groups are generally progressive and have a forward-thinking mindset toward how deeply emotional losses can negatively impact employees.
The best place to find out who qualifies for bereavement leave is to look in your employee handbook or consult your manager or human resources team.
How long should you take for bereavement leave?
As is becoming evident, the time you take for bereavement leave varies as companies have different policies. Typically, your company will offer three days of bereavement time, but some offer as much as five days. There are other companies that provide no bereavement leave, meaning that you'll have to use sick time or paid time off to get some days that you can use to attend a funeral.
Three days may not seem like much, especially when you consider the time needed for meeting with Attorneys and funeral homes. If you need more time, it's quite possible that you can talk to your manager to get an extension; however, if that extension goes beyond the normal amount of days specified in the policy for bereavement leave, they could go unpaid.
It can be hard to determine whether three days is enough. Everyone grieves differently. Grief also affects people's ability to get the necessary tasks done. The closer your loved one is to you, the more time you're likely to need.
The best thing to do, to ensure that you're getting the time you need, is to plan ahead. Obviously, you can't plan for a loved one to pass away, as these things often happen suddenly, but you can plan how you'll use your time away from work. Be open with your manager and human resources about your needs, so you can work together to come up with the best options.
Are you paid for bereavement leave?
Most of the time, yes, you are paid. Companies that have a three- or five-day bereavement leave policy understand that their employees don't need to worry about work-related stress, so they mark the time as paid leave. Ultimately, paying you to take time off after someone you love has passed away is more cost-efficient to the company than having you leave and needing to use resources to replace you.
Bear in mind, though, that there are some companies that don't pay when you take bereavement leave. You can still take the time off to do what you need to do, you just won't receive your regular salary. Often, these companies will allow you to use accrued paid time off (PTO) or personal days to maintain your regular income. You can also use PTO to keep the money coming in if you have to extend a paid bereavement leave beyond the allowed time.
How do you request bereavement leave?
It can be hard to walk up to your boss to ask about bereavement leave. You're already emotionally raw from learning that you've just lost someone, and now you have to be professional. If it's easier, you can send an email to your direct supervisor. Let them know that you feel you'd have a hard time talking right now. Sending an email can also be the best way of providing them with the documentation they'll need. You'll find that almost every company has to have either a copy of a death certificate or obituary so they can grant bereavement leave.
Once you send the email, you should still verbally tell your supervisor. Ideally, sending the email minimizes how much you'll actually have to speak. Don't be afraid to ask for guidance or help. Remember, your boss is a human being who's probably lost someone in their life, too. They have some understanding of what you're going through.
The intersection of supportive resources and bereavement leave
While having access to a comprehensive bereavement leave policy is great, there are other resources that you can use to seek support during these challenging times. Companies understand that grief is a complicated and deeply emotional process, so they may offer other things to help.
Employee assistance programs (EAPs)
Your company's EAP is a service for employees and immediate family members and provides counseling and emotional support services. These services are guided by trained professionals to help you cope with everything you're dealing with. EAPs can also refer you to specialized Grief Counselors or Therapists when you need more targeted help. The great thing about the company EAP is that it's available after bereavement leave is over.
Grief support groups
It can be easy to let grief get the best of you and cause you to withdraw from people and responsibilities. Many companies offer, or have recommendations for, local or online support groups. Attending one can give you a sense of belonging and allow you to share your feelings and experiences as you work toward learning to cope with the loss you've faced.
With all of this, you have to know your rights. For example, as we mentioned at the beginning, there are no federal mandates about bereavement leave. However, there is a thing called the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). While the FMLA doesn't cover bereavement, specifically, you can use it to care for an ill family member for a certain time with the peace of mind that your job is protected.
While there are no federally mandated laws related to bereavement, several states, including California, Oregon, Washington, and New York, have enacted state policies concerning bereavement leave. Other states, like Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont, have active legislation efforts going on. You may also find that some local laws exist. Do your research to determine what's available to you.
What is an example of a bereavement policy?
So that you can get some practice reviewing a bereavement leave policy to pick out the important bits that you'll need when, and if, that time comes, here is a sample policy. Of course, if you're an employer who needs to create a bereavement policy, feel free to use this as a template to customize to your own organizational guidelines.
Sample Bereavement Leave Policy
ABC Company knows that the loss of a loved one is challenging and emotionally demanding. We'd like you to know that we're here to support you every step of the way. One way we will do this is by offering bereavement leave. This policy outlines the eligibility criteria, duration, and procedures for requesting and taking bereavement leave.
Employees of ABC Company are eligible for bereavement leave if they meet the following criteria:
Must be a regular, full-time employee
Must have completed 160 days of continuous employment
Bereavement leave is granted for a period of up to 5 days, to allow employees to grieve, attend to personal matters, and make arrangements when an immediate family member is lost. Immediate family members, for the purposes of this policy, include:
Spouse or domestic partner
Children (including step-children and adopted children)
Parents (including step-parents)
Siblings (including step-siblings)
In-laws (spouse's parents or children)
Bereavement leave is paid at your regular hourly rate for eligible employees. Ineligible employees can request leave, but that time off will not be paid.
Requesting bereavement leave
In the event of bereavement, follow these steps to request leave:
Immediately notify your immediate supervisor and Human Resources as soon as possible
Provide documentation, such as a death certificate or obituary, to verify the need for bereavement leave
Work with your supervisor to ensure your work is taken care of in your absence
As a progressive company that values creating a positive culture for our staff, we understand that life doesn't always happen the way we expect. With that said, you can request an extension of the bereavement leave. Extensions beyond the standard 5 days may be granted at the discretion of your immediate supervisor and may be paid or unpaid, depending on the circumstances.
Return to work
You are expected to return to work immediately at the end of your bereavement leave.
It isn't easy to consider bereavement leave as a benefit, but that's ultimately what it is. Your employer wants to be supportive in what are probably your darkest hours. It's not even just a matter of policy, because most companies are committed to the well-being of their employees. At the end of the day, you're not alone. Work with your boss to find the comfort and strength you need.
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