What to Know About Bereavement Leave

Make a strategy for bereavement leave that follows the rules and these best practices.

When someone loses a loved one, it can be hard and confusing to know what to say. This is especially true for a workplace. But instead of trying to avoid the situation, you should give workers who are hurting the help they need during these hard times. Setting up a clear strategy for mourning leave is a great way to do this. Before you make one, you should know the laws and rules about mourning leave and how they apply to your business.

About bereavement leave

If you know about the basics of bereavement leave, you can make a strategy that helps your workers.

What is bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave, also called compassionate leave, is time off that an employee can take after the death of a family member or close friend. This time off can be paid or unpaid. Employees can take mourning leave to mourn the loss of a loved one, take care of preparations, and plan or attend funeral services.

Is bereavement leave mandatory?

There are no federal rules that say you have to give your employees time off for a death in the family, and most states don’t require businesses to do so either. But a small number of states have laws and rules about mourning leave.

Here are a few state guidelines to take note of.

In California, workers who qualify can take up to five days off when a family member dies. This is true for companies with five or more workers.
In Illinois, workers who qualify can take up to two weeks of unpaid mourning leave for the death of a covered family member or a loss connected to fertility, pregnancy, surrogacy, or adoption. This is true for companies with 50 or more workers.
In Maryland, workers who are eligible can take up to five days of paid sick leave or up to three days of mourning leave when a close family member dies. This is true for companies with 15 or more workers.

Oregon: If a family member dies, eligible workers can take up to two weeks of mourning leave, up to a total of 12 weeks per calendar leave year. This is true for companies with 25 or more workers.
Washington: If a close family member dies, eligible workers can take up to three days off to deal with their loss.
State and city rules are always changing, so depending on where your business is based and where your workers live, there may be other requirements for taking mourning leave. To stay on the right side of the law, you need to know what the rules are in your area.

Who can take bereavement leave?

Unless the law says otherwise, it is usually up to each company to decide which full-time or part-time, entry-level, or management workers are qualified for bereavement leave.

Some businesses may only give mourning leave to full-time workers who lose a close family member, while others may have more inclusive policies that help any worker who has been touched by death.

The best bereavement policies are all-inclusive and let eligible employees take paid leave after the death of any loved one, no matter how close they were to the person who died (e.g., spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, stepparent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, friend, or neighbor). Your company’s policy on mourning leave should make it clear who can take time off and under what conditions.

Is proof required to take bereavement leave?

It’s up to your company to decide and say in your grief leave policy if workers need to show proof of death or paperwork to take bereavement leave.

Asking for proof can be awkward, and you might come across as uncaring if you do, so treat the situation with care. If you decide to ask for proof, try to make it as easy as possible for the employee and think about letting the employee send the proof after they have returned to work.

Shirley King, the founder of Life On Power, said that an obituary, a funeral notice, or a written request for mourning leave that includes the name of the deceased, the date of death, the city of death, and the employee’s link to the deceased are all good ways to show proof.

How long is bereavement leave?

The average policy for mourning leave gives an employee three to four days off for the death of a close family member, like a partner, and less time for the death of a friend or extended family member.

At some companies, workers can ask for more time off by getting permission to take paid vacation days, sick leave, or unpaid time off. Most states don’t require grief leave, so the number of days an employee can miss work will probably depend on your bereavement leave policy. [See also: Best Practises for PTO Policies]

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Is bereavement leave paid or unpaid?

Bereavement leave can be paid or unpaid, but most companies pay full or partial wages for the time off.

Why your business should provide bereavement leave

Mindy Cassel, who helped start the Children’s Mourning Centre, said that companies and managers can help their workers heal after a loss by giving them mourning leave.

“Both the griever and the staff will be more loyal to the company because of how kind they were during a hard time in their lives,” Cassel told business.com. “Less stress, flexibility, and social support will make it easier for the worker who lost a loved one to adjust.”

Many people think that giving mourning leave is the right thing to do, that it’s kind and shows what the company stands for. But a business also stands to win in the real world. Helping your employee through this hard time and giving them time to cry will make it more likely that they will be able to go back to work when it’s time and be inspired to do so. On the other hand, an employee who can’t take time off may find it harder to do their job and keep up with their tasks because they are under more mental stress. From that point of view, it’s in the company’s best interest to give leave if they want their employee to be as mentally healthy as possible and do well in their job in the future.

Advice for business owners on their bereavement policies

Even though most states don’t require mourning leave, it’s a good idea for every business to give some kind of it. Companies can help their workers by coming up with a clear and thorough strategy for mourning leave.

King said that a full policy for mourning leave should cover the following:

Who qualifies for bereavement leave?

What are the rules for people in my close family, my broader family, and my friends?
How many days can a worker take off for a death in the family?
Is there pay or no pay for mourning leave?
How do you ask for time off for a death in the family?
What kind of paperwork do pleas for mourning leave need?
How will your salary system keep track of time off for a death in the family?

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It’s important that your strategy for mourning leave fits with the resources you have and is as inclusive as possible. King told business owners and managers that when making rules for direct and extended family members, they should keep in mind that mixed families are a big part of the lives of many employees in the modern world.

You may also want to make a policy that gives the employee some freedom about the days they can take off. For example, the policy could say how many days the employee can take off for bereavement, but the employee and their direct supervisor could decide on the exact dates. Depending on their position, not everyone will want to take all of their leave at once. Put the policy on what to do when someone dies in the staff handbook and change it as needed. Apply the strategy the same way everywhere in your organization to avoid charges of discrimination at work.

“A review of the bereavement policy by management should happen every year, along with reviews of other policies that should be reviewed every year,” said King.
How to help an employee who is sad

In addition to your mourning strategy, you and your team can help grieving employees in many other ways when they return to work. Cassel told business owners the following things they can do to help their workers who have lost their jobs.

Teach your team about what the grieving worker needs.

Allow the employee’s close coworkers to attend funerals and remembrance events, if that’s what’s best.
Give the grieving worker an open plan so that they can take care of their own needs.
Find one or more employees who can help the sad worker with his or her work.
Connect the mourning employee with a company guide, such as a co-worker who knows the employee well or who has been through a similar loss.
Pay the employee’s salary while they are on leave and flextime.
Don’t call the employee with bad news about work during the funeral, wake, or shiva.
Send the sad employee a gift, some food, or flowers, and ask if there is anything else you can do to help, like going grocery shopping.
Help people get more help through your HR team, an employee aid program, or services in your area.

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