As an employer, you're likely aware of the importance of employee benefits when it comes to attracting, hiring, and retaining top talent. But did you know that bereavement leave is an important part of that package? This type of leave allows employees to take time away from their job duties when grieving the death of a close family member or friend, which can lead to many benefits for both the employee and the employer.
Keep reading to learn more about what bereavement leave is, its importance, how it works, and what employers should consider when creating their policies.
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Bereavement leave is an employee benefit that provides individuals with time off from work to cope with the loss of a loved one. It allows employees to grieve, make necessary arrangements, and attend funeral services without the added stress of work responsibilities.
Bereavement leave holds significant importance for several reasons:
Supporting Employees: Bereavement leave demonstrates an employer's understanding and compassion toward employees during a challenging and emotional time.
Grief And Healing: Losing a loved one can be emotionally devastating. Bereavement leave gives individuals the necessary time and space to grieve, process their emotions, and begin healing.
Practical Arrangements: Taking time off work allows employees to handle practical matters related to the loss, such as funeral preparations, estate matters, and supporting their families during this difficult period.
Bereavement leave is typically offered as paid or unpaid time off work. Employers can set the terms and duration for bereavement leave according to their preferences. For example, employers may offer several days (e.g., three) of paid or unpaid bereavement leave for close relatives, with additional time off allowed for more distant family members.
Bereavement leave offers several benefits for both employees and employers:
The time off of work allows employees to take care of their emotional needs and grieve in peace. This can help them heal emotionally and allow them to better focus on their job.
Offering bereavement leave demonstrates an employer's commitment to their employees' overall well-being. Employees are more likely to feel supported and valued, leading to increased loyalty and retention.
Taking time off to grieve and attend to personal matters allows employees to return to work with a clearer mind and increased focus. This, in turn, enhances productivity and job performance.
Though bereavement leave can provide much-needed time for a family to grieve and heal, it comes with drawbacks.
1. Work Disruptions: Extended periods of employee absence due to bereavement leave may result in temporary work disruptions and increased workload for other team members.
2. Financial Implications: Depending on the size of the company, employers may have to bear additional costs associated with hiring and training staff to fill in for bereaved employees.
The concept of bereavement leave has deep roots in human history and social norms, but the modern incarnation as a workplace policy has its genesis in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The industrial revolution and the subsequent advent of labor laws played a crucial role in shaping worker rights, including time off for personal matters like grief.
However, as a codified part of company policy, bereavement leave began to gain prominence in the mid-20th century. The rise of unions and increasing awareness of employee well-being led to more formalized labor contracts and the recognition of the need for time off during periods of mourning. This understanding formed the basis for what we now refer to as bereavement leave policies.
In the present-day workplace, there is a growing recognition of the importance of supporting employees during times of loss and providing them with the necessary time and space to cope with grief. In fact, according to research conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 88% of businesses offer paid bereavement leave.1
These organizations now have formal bereavement leave policies outlining the duration and conditions under which employees can take time off. The scope of bereavement leave has expanded beyond immediate family members to include extended family, close friends, or even beloved pets in some cases.
Recently, some companies have started offering additional benefits such as counseling services or flexible work arrangements to support further employees dealing with loss.
As attitudes towards workplace issues like mental health continue to evolve and more organizations recognize the importance of creating a compassionate work environment, bereavement leave is likely to become even more commonplace.
It is also possible that some countries may pass legislation mandating bereavement leave as part of their labor laws, further normalizing the practice in all kinds of workplaces.
In addition, organizations may introduce additional benefits beyond the standard bereavement leave policy to provide more holistic support for their employees.
In some cases, employers may offer alternatives to traditional bereavement leave, depending on company policies and employees' specific needs. Here are a few other options to consider:
Employers may be willing to work with employees to create more flexible working arrangements. This could include allowing them to change shifts, work remotely during their bereavement period, or take an extended break or a shorter leave of absence for a predetermined amount of time.
Offering paid time off as an alternative to bereavement leave is becoming increasingly popular, as it gives employees greater flexibility to take a few days away from work without affecting their salary.
In situations where extended time off is required, employers may allow employees to take unpaid leave or a combination of paid and unpaid leave to manage their personal obligations.
To determine the duration and eligibility for bereavement leave, companies typically establish specific guidelines. Here are some common considerations:
Companies often define the eligible relationships and individuals for whom bereavement leave can be taken. Eligible individuals typically include immediate family members, such as parents, siblings, spouse/partner, children, or grandparents. In some cases, close friends or extended family members may also be considered eligible.
The amount of time off for bereavement leave varies from company to company. Generally, organizations offer between three and five days of paid leave when an employee experiences a death in their family or close circle. Some companies may even consider additional unpaid leave if needed.
No federal law mandates employers to provide bereavement leave for employees, so the decision rests with the employer. When it comes to state laws, they vary widely - many states do not have any regulations regarding bereavement leave at all.
However, a few states are beginning to take action. Oregon now includes two weeks of bereavement leave in its state family and medical leave statutes.
When taking bereavement leave, employees are typically required to provide certain documentation and notify their employer. Here are some common requirements:
Obituary or death certificate
Funeral program or invitation
Affidavit or declaration
Employees should notify their employer as soon as possible when requesting bereavement leave. The notification process may include:
Direct Supervisor: Informing the immediate supervisor or manager verbally or in writing about the need for bereavement leave.
Human Resources (HR): Contacting the HR department to request and discuss the details of the leave formally.
Written Request: Submitting a written request for bereavement leave, including the anticipated duration, the relationship with the deceased, and any supporting documentation.
Companies often have policies and support mechanisms to assist employees during bereavement. These policies aim to provide understanding, flexibility, and necessary resources. Here are a few common company policies and support programs for employees facing difficult times:
Paid and unpaid leave
Flexible work arrangements
Employee assistance programs (EAPs)
Communication and support
Employers need to consider several factors when implementing bereavement leave policies. These considerations can help ensure fair and compassionate treatment of employees during times of loss. Here are some considerations for employers to think about when developing a bereavement leave policy:
It's important to create a bereavement leave policy that is consistent and fair for all employees. Any differences in the amount of leave granted should be based on objective factors such as seniority, length of service, or position.
Employers should understand that everyone grieves differently. When developing a bereavement leave policy, companies should account for individual needs. Employers should keep in mind that employees may need more time off than the policy dictates to fully process their grief and return to work feeling supported.
Providing bereavement leave is a start, but companies should also consider measures such as offering counseling services or bereavement leave resources for employees who need them.
While bereavement and funeral leave might sound similar, they are two different things. Bereavement leave is a time off that you can take when a loved one has passed away. On the other hand, funeral leave is the time off that an employee can take to attend the actual funeral service or memorial.
Yes! Amazon allows employees to take up to three days of paid bereavement leave for the death of an immediate family.2
If you need to take time off due to the death of a family member, simply reach out to your manager and explain your circumstances. Your manager will then help you fill out the appropriate bereavement leave paperwork.
No, bereavement leave is generally limited to the year in which it was taken. You cannot carry over any time off you didn't use for bereavement into the following year.
While we often use both phrases to mean the same thing, bereavement and compassionate leaves are not exactly the same. Compassionate leave is a broader concept that covers any kind of time off due to tragedies or emergencies (E.g., to look after someone close, like an ailing relative or dependent).3 On the other hand, bereavement leave refers explicitly to a few days of paid time off for dealing with the death of an immediate family member.
It’s time to rethink corporate bereavement policies. Harvard Business Review. (2020, October 5). https://hbr.org/2020/10/its-time-to-rethink-corporate-bereavement-policies
Bereavement Policy. (2017). https://s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/cobbcounty.org.if-us-west-2/prod/2021-03/Bereavement%20Policy.pdf
Employment standards: Employment standards: Compassionate care leave. Province of Manitoba. (n.d.). https://www.gov.mb.ca/labour/standards/doc,compassionate-leave,factsheet.html