What Is Bereavement Leave?

By Abby McCain
Oct. 12, 2022
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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Unfortunately, everyone will lose a loved one at some point, and when someone close to you passes away, it can be surprisingly exhausting.

Between grieving, making funeral preparations, managing your loved one’s legal documents and belongings, and trying to handle your regular responsibilities while figuring out how to navigate this new normal, it’s all but impossible to function at the full capacity that you normally would.

Because of this and also the fact that it takes time to plan or attend a funeral and make other arrangements, many companies provide bereavement leave to their employees.

Key Takeaways:

  • There is no U.S. federal law and only a few state laws requiring employers to provide this leave, but many do anyway since it’s vital to care for their workers.

  • The types of bereavement leave usually offered are paid leave, unpaid leave, and sick leave.

  • When coming up with bereavement policies, it’s important to keep religious practices and traditions in mind because not all are the same.

  • Your employer may require proof of loss, which is a document such as a death certificate or funeral program, for bereavement leave.

What Is Bereavement Leave?

What Is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave is leave provided to employees who have had a loved one pass away. It’s time off for you to make funeral and burial arrangements, attend those ceremonies, and even take care of the will, the deceased’s belongings, or other tasks.

The specifics of this leave varies from company to company as far as paid or unpaid, length of time, and which family members’ deaths make you eligible for bereavement leave, so it’s important to ask your employer what its policies are.

Types Of Bereavement Leave

Since there are so few laws regulating bereavement leave in the U.S., companies’ policies can vary widely, even down to the type of leave that employees get to use. Here are the three most common:

  1. Paid leave. Ideally, every company would offer paid bereavement leave, and some do. Some also may give a few days of paid leave and then allow you to take unpaid leave after that if you need more time.

  2. Unpaid leave. Many companies offer employees unpaid bereavement leave, and some states that have implemented bereavement leave policies often only require employers to provide unpaid leave. This way, while you’ll miss out on getting paid while you’re off, you’ll at least know you have a job when you return.

  3. Sick leave. Some companies provide sick days separate from paid time off and allow you to use those days to take care of ill family members or as bereavement leave. While this means you don’t get designated bereavement leave, it does mean you can accrue these paid days off and use as many of them as you want if someone passes away.

Understanding Bereavement Leave

In addition to the types of bereavement leave you may get, there are some other common variations in policies to be aware of.

  1. How long do you have to use the bereavement leave? Companies often limit how long after the death of your loved one you can use your bereavement leave, especially if they offer a significant number of days for you to use. This is especially important to note if your employer doesn’t require you to take all of your bereavement days at once.

    Often companies will require employees to use their leave within several months after their loss. This ensures the worker has enough time to take care of everything while the company prevents the policy from being abused.

  2. Who you can use it for. Some companies are generous enough to give you bereavement leave that you can use whenever you want, even if it’s for your pet that passed away, but others aren’t quite as flexible. Most often, bereavement leave policies only apply if you’ve lost an immediate family member.

    This means that if your spouse, domestic partner, parent, sibling, or child dies, you are eligible for bereavement leave. Companies can and often do expand their policies past just those family members, but this is usually the standard eligibility requirement.

  3. How to prove you’re eligible. It may feel offensive to have to prove that your loved one actually passed away, but it’s an unfortunate reality since many people try to take advantage of and abuse these policies.

    Typically, though, the process of confirming this doesn’t require a death certificate or anything like that: Something as simple as a funeral program or obituary will do, or it may be as simple as providing your deceased loved one’s name and address.

If you can, study your employer’s bereavement leave policies now so that you don’t have to try to sift through them later when you’re grieving a loss.

If you’re a manager, make sure you know these policies inside and out and have easy access to any forms needed to apply for bereavement leave. This is an easy way to take some of the load off your employees’ shoulders when they’re in the midst of their grief.

Bereavement Leave Tips for Employers

If you’re the one making the bereavement leave policies for your organization or managing employees who lost a loved one, here are some tips for how to navigate this complex scenario.

  1. Keep religious practices and traditions in mind. For example, in Jewish tradition, the period of mourning lasts seven days. If your company’s bereavement leave policy grants only three days, this could make things difficult for this particular employee.

    Because of this, you might want to include a clause about providing enough leave for religious traditions in your bereavement leave policy and come up with a plan for how you’ll handle situations like these.

    Also, to avoid stereotyping or awkward misunderstanding, try to either sit down with the employee yourself or have their direct supervisor meet with them to hear what’s going on, show them support, and ask what they need. You can explain or clarify company bereavement leave policies in this meeting too.

  2. Remember that some employees will need to travel. Often funerals take place in other states or countries, requiring bereaved employees to spend significant time traveling. Some may even need to be there before or after the funeral to plan the service and take care of other post-death necessities.

    To accommodate this, some companies provide different bereavement leave policies based on whether or not the employee needs to travel. For example, you could do something like three days of bereavement leave for those who don’t need to travel and five days for those who do.

  3. Standardize the request form and make it easy to find. When you lose someone you love, it can be difficult to see straight, let alone remember which four forms you need to fill out to apply for bereavement leave and where they’re buried in the company portal.

    Make your employees’ and your life easier by creating a standard form (just one, if possible) to fill out when they need to request bereavement leave. Make it easy to access and tell everyone what it is, where to find it, and who to give it to.

  4. Help employees figure out who will cover their extra work. Unlike a vacation, your employees usually aren’t able to plan when they’ll need to use their bereavement leave. Because of this, there’s a good chance they can’t work ahead or take much time to transfer their responsibilities to someone else.

    To prevent them from having to deal with too many work responsibilities while they’re gone and you from having to scramble to cover for them, have a designated “buddy” for each employee who can quickly take over their buddy’s responsibilities without much training.

    If you run a large company, you can have your supervisors or managers do this for each of their team members. Before anything happens, facilitate training for everyone on what they’ll need to cover and which accesses they’ll need.

    This is also a beneficial system to have in place when employees are on vacation and something comes up or when they’re out sick.

  5. Consider offering flexible work hours for a time after the funeral. In the event your employees need more time than you provide leave for, consider providing a flexible schedule or remote work option.

    This way, they aren’t totally off but still have the freedom they need to plan a service or take care of legal and financial tasks for the deceased. This takes the pressure off of both the employees and the rest of the organization: Work is still getting done, but your employees are able to take care of themselves and their families.

  6. Make sure your Employee Assistance Program covers grief counseling. Losing a loved one is hard, to say the least, and it can take a lot of work to fully process grief and learn how to move forward. Grief counseling can be a tremendous help with this, so consider your company’s EAP covers this for your employees and then tell them about it.

    If you aren’t sure about this or need help convincing your financial team to do it, it’s important to realize that healthy, happy employees are some of a company’s best assets, and making sure grief counseling is covered by the EAP is a simple way to take care of them.

  7. Check-in with your employee. Once your employee is back from bereavement leave, and it’s appropriate, schedule a one-on-one meeting to see how they’re doing. This is not only to see how they’re faring emotionally but also how they’re handling their workload.

    Ask if there is anything they need from you, lighten their workload as they ease their way back in, and leave the door open for them to ask for help or support in the future.

    On a more personal level, consider having staff or their team members sign a sympathy card. Even though it’s difficult to know what to say to someone who is grieving, simply acknowledging their hurt can mean the world to them.

Bereavement Leave FAQ

  1. Is bereavement leave required by law?

    No, there is no federal law requiring bereavement leave. Most states also don’t have requirements for private companies to offer paid bereavement leave.

    Only one state, which is Oregon, that requires up to two weeks of leave per family member for employers with 25 or more employees. If you are unsure if your company offers any bereavement leave, check your company policies.

  2. How long is bereavement leave.

    The standard bereavement policy is three to seven days. Most of the time the amount of time you get will depend on your relationship with the deceased. For immediate family members, you may receive more time off versus non immediate family members which you may only get a day or two.

  3. What is proof of loss?

    Proof of loss is when employers want proof, such as a document, that someone has died. Most of the time a death certificate will be enough for an employer. But depending on your relationship you may not be able to get one.

    Some other forms of documentation that your employer might accept are a funeral program, obituary, or a prayer card. Your boss or HR department will be able to let you know what form of documentation is accepted.

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Abby McCain

Abby is a writer who is passionate about the power of story. Whether it’s communicating complicated topics in a clear way or helping readers connect with another person or place from the comfort of their couch. Abby attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in writing with concentrations in journalism and business.

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