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Bereavement Leave: The What, Why, and How

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Losing a loved one can be painful and distressing.

Going through this very difficult period makes going to work everyday a challenge.

The death of an immediate family member can be devastating and should be treated as a sensitive time for the people left behind.

That’s why most employees request a leave of absence to grieve and help their relatives make funeral arrangements.

Unlike what most people think, companies in the United States are not mandated by law to offer it.

There are also no set rules or guidelines when it comes to implementation.

It’s up to the employer to decide how their policy will look.

If you’re an employee, it’s important to educate yourself about your company’s bereavement policy.

This way, you’ll know your rights and set proper expectations should an unfortunate event arise.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about bereavement leave.

What Is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave is a time off from work that employees take to grieve the death of a family member or close relative.

They use this time to assist with the funeral arrangements and be with relatives during the service.

Many people refer to it as funeral leave.

Employers are not required by law to pay employees who take bereavement leave.

It’s up to the company’s discretion.

However, more and more companies in the US are starting to implement better bereavement policies.

In 2017, Facebook announced that it will start offering 20 days of bereavement leave to employees who have lost a family member.

Other companies like Mastercard and popular online survey service, SurveyMonkey, implemented similar changes in their policies.

How Do I Ask for Bereavement Leave?

When a family member or a close relative dies, you should immediately notify your human resources department.

There are no set rules or standards for how companies should implement bereavement leave policies.

That’s why it’s important to consult with HR so they can explain the terms and conditions before you file for leave.

Most companies in the US consider both full-time and part-time workers eligible for bereavement leave.

However, note that companies are not required by federal law to implement a bereavement leave policy.

Actual rules and conditions vary from one employer to another.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) states the employers are not required to compensate employees for time not worked, which includes attending a funeral.

It would be best to check your company handbook or consult with an HR person to confirm.

According to a report by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP), 94% of US employers offer bereavement leave in a separate plan.

For companies who don’t offer it in a separate plan, they include it as a part of paid time off (PTO).

In 2016, only 4% of the respondents said they did not offer it to their employees.

These companies will likely offer it to their workers as unpaid leave or personal leave, depending on the person’s contract, or as indicated in their collective bargaining agreements.

What Do Bereavement Leave Policies Look Like?

Companies who have a bereavement policy in force typically provide the necessary details in the employee handbook.

A well-structured policy outlines the terms and conditions, stating the rules.

The terms and conditions should cover who is eligible to apply for it (full-time or part-time, and if there’s a minimum number of hours worked) and define the scope of a “family member.”

It should also include details on compensation if the company treats it as paid leave.

If they do, they should indicate the number of days an employee can take off and its corresponding pay.

Currently, only the state of Oregon requires employers with more than 25 employees to offer bereavement leave.

However, the state doesn’t require companies to treat it as paid leave.

The state of Illinois enforces the Child Bereavement Leave Act, which requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide 10 days of unpaid leave for the loss of a child.

For the rest of the country, there are no fixed guidelines for bereavement leave policies.

However, almost all US organizations offer it as paid leave in a separate policy or include it in their paid-time-off (PTO) plan.

In a separate article by IFEBP, most organizations today offer three days of bereavement leave for the death of a spouse.

More than a quarter of the respondents extend it to 5 days.

Most companies offer the same three-day bereavement policy for the death of immediate family members, which may include:

  • Parents
  • Children
  • Foster children
  • Domestic partners
  • Fathers-in-law
  • Mothers-in-law
  • Sons-in-law
  • Daughters-in-law
  • Grandchildren

The results of a study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that 88% of US companies offer paid bereavement leave to full-time employees.

Those who are working part-time will have their pay pro-rated if the funeral happens on a weekday.

What If My Employer Doesn’t Offer Bereavement Leave?

Very few companies in the US don’t have bereavement leave policies in place.

But if your company is among the few, you can utilize the following alternative solutions to take some time off work.

Sick Leave and Medical Leave

The US Office of People Management (OPM) declared that eligible employees can use up to 13 days (104 hours) of paid sick leave per year if the following scenarios occur:

  • The employee needs to make the necessary arrangements to attend the funeral of a family member or close relative
  • The employee needs to assist someone in the family who will be undergoing medical, optical, or dental treatment
  • The employee needs to care for a family member who is unable to perform basic living tasks due to mental or physical illness.
  • The employee has a family member who died in service as a member of the US Armed Forces. He or she can take up to three days (these don’t have to be consecutive) of leave to attend the funeral (or help in making arrangements).

If an employee would like to request additional time off during or after the funeral, they’ll have to do it on unpaid time by using their personal leave.

Some companies offer grieving employees the option to temporarily work from home so they can focus on making funeral arrangements and related matters.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA gives eligible employees the option to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specified family and medical conditions.

Common uses of FMLA leave include:

  • The care of a newborn child
  • A serious health condition that prevents the employee from performing basic tasks at work
  • The placement of an employee’s child for adoption or foster care
  • An employee’s immediate family member is a covered military member

Do note, however, that the FMLA doesn’t cover bereavement leave.

Still some employers allow their workers to use it for a related purpose.

For example, if the employee has a dying family member or relative that they need to take care of, they might be allowed to utilize their FMLA leave.

Workers who lost a family member and are undergoing grief counseling might be allowed to use it as well.

Another important thing to consider is the employee and the company’s FMLA eligibility.

In the US, not all companies are required to offer it to their employees.

Most small businesses don’t implement it because they don’t have the required minimum number of employees.

 To be eligible, the employer and employee need to meet certain qualifications, which include:

  • The government agency or private company has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of their physical workspace
  • The employee should have worked at least 1,250 hours within a 12-month period.

The Importance of Bereavement Leave

Employees go through a lot after losing a loved one.

Aside from the grief of losing a family member, they have to undergo a period of adjustment that might find them struggling to get back into their normal flow.

If you’re a business owner, having a standard bereavement policy will go a long way toward helping your employees cope during this difficult time of their lives.

It’s your company’s way of acknowledging their feelings of grief and loss.

Letting them get some time off work to make arrangements or attend the funeral of their loved one lets them know that you care.

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