Everything You Need to Know About Bereavement Leave

Losing a loved one is never easy. It can be incredibly challenging when balancing work commitments. In times of bereavement, employees may need time off to grieve and take care of arrangements. This is where bereavement leave comes in.

What is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave, also known as compassionate leave or funeral leave, is a type of employee benefit that allows an employee to take time off from work following the death of a family member or loved one. It is intended to give employees the necessary time and space to grieve, attend funerals, and make necessary arrangements.

Who is Eligible for Bereavement Leave?

Eligibility for bereavement leave varies depending on the company’s policies and local laws. Typically, immediate family members such as parents, spouses, domestic partners, children, and siblings are considered eligible for bereavement leave.

Some companies may extend bereavement benefits to include extended family members or close friends. The employer also decides whether miscarriage, unsuccessful in vitro, or the loss of a pet is eligible. You must check with your employer or human resources (HR) department to understand their specific criteria.

How Much Bereavement Leave Can an Employee Take?

The amount of bereavement leave an employee can take varies by company and state laws. In most cases, the leave is limited to a few days (usually 3-5 days) for immediate family members. Some states require paid leave or allow employees to use their accrued time off for extended bereavement leave.

How to Ask for Bereavement Leave

There are specific steps employees should take when requesting bereavement leave:

  1. Notify your employer as soon as possible: When you learn about the death of a loved one, it is essential to inform your employer or HR department as soon as possible. This will allow them to make necessary arrangements and cover your absence.
  2. Provide proof if required: While it may seem insensitive, it’s common for some companies to require evidence, such as a death certificate or obituary, to approve bereavement leave. If this is the case, make sure to provide the necessary documentation.
  3. Understand your company’s policies: As mentioned earlier, every company has its own bereavement leave policy. Familiarize yourself with it and follow any specific procedures or guidelines it has in place.
  4. Communicate any changes: If your bereavement leave needs to be extended or if you need additional time off, make sure to communicate this with your employer. They may require you to provide further documentation or adjust your work schedule accordingly.
  5. Keep co-workers informed: If you feel comfortable, let your co-workers know about the situation and when you expect to return to work. This will help them understand your absence and provide support during this difficult time.

Coping with Grief in the Workplace

Returning to work after a loss can be challenging. Feeling overwhelmed, distracted, or emotional during this time is expected. Some ways to cope with grief in the workplace include:

  • Be open and communicate: Talk to your employer or HR department about any concerns regarding returning to work. They may be able to provide accommodations or support.
  • Take breaks when needed: If you feel overwhelmed, take short breaks throughout the day to regroup.
  • Seek support from colleagues: Lean on your co-workers for support and understanding. They may have also experienced similar losses and can provide valuable insight and empathy.
  • Consider counseling services: Many companies offer counseling services or employee assistance programs (EAP) that provide mental health resources for emotional support.
  • Focus on self-care outside of work: Take care of yourself outside of work by getting enough rest, eating well, and engaging in activities that bring you comfort as best you can.

Supporting Employees During Bereavement

Bereavement leave is not required in most states across the US. Yet, an employer offering such a benefit can significantly support their employees and provide much-needed empathy during difficult times. Putting employees’ mental health first can increase productivity, build trust, and foster a positive work culture.

Employers play a crucial role in supporting employees during bereavement. Some ways an employer can show support include:

  1. Offering flexible work arrangements: Employers may allow employees to work from home or adjust their work schedule.
  2. Providing resources for grief counseling: Employers may offer access to counseling services or provide information on local support groups.
  3. Offering additional time off if needed: Employers can consider extending bereavement leave or offering unpaid leave options if an employee needs more time off.
  4. Being understanding and compassionate: Employers should be sympathetic and compassionate towards their employees during this difficult time. This can go a long way in helping employees cope with their loss and feel supported at work.

Bereavement Leave Laws by State

While no federal law requires bereavement leave, five states have implemented laws for eligible employees.

  • California: Requires up to 5 days of unpaid leave to employees who have lost an immediate family member. The employee must have worked for over 30 days for a company with five or more employees.
  • Washington: The only state that requires paid leave for three days for loss of family or a household member. Plus, up to 7 days of parental leave in the case of losing a child. Employees can also request additional time off using their accrued medical leave, paid sick leave, personal time, or vacation time.
  • Oregon: Employees are entitled to up to 2 weeks of unpaid leave for immediate family and blood-related relatives. This is only valid for businesses with over 25 people and employees who have worked at least 180 days above 25 hours per week (full-time).
  • Maryland: Any employer with over 15 employees must allow bereavement using the employee’s accrued time off.
  • Illinois: Companies with 50 or more employees that have worked over 1250 hours in the past 12 months are allowed a maximum of 10 days on unpaid leave.

Offering Empathy in Hard Times

Bereavement leave is an essential benefit for both employers and employees. It allows for proper grieving and supports overall employee well-being. Employers should communicate clear policies effectively to employees so they know how to proceed in the event of a loss.

Bereavement Leave FAQ:

Does the law require bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave is not required by federal law, but some states have their own bereavement leave laws. Employers may also offer it as part of their company policies. It is not covered under short-term disability or paid family leave.

Is bereavement leave paid?

Bereavement leave is unpaid unless the employer’s policy states otherwise. If an employer uses paid time off, they may be able to recover their wages this way.

What is proof of loss?

Proof of loss can include a death certificate, obituary, or any other documentation verifying a family member’s loss.

Is it bad to take bereavement leave?

No, taking bereavement leave is not bad. It is a vital time for employees to grieve and take care of their mental well-being after the loss of a loved one. Employers should be understanding and supportive of their employees during this difficult time. Thus, it is acceptable to take bereavement leave when needed.

Does the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) cover bereavement?

No, these are two distinct policies. The FMLA allows family members to take care of loved ones or themselves with serious health conditions.

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JayDee Vykoukal

JayDee is a mom, writer, and Doctor of Physical Therapy. She’s passionate about helping women live their best lives through community and education. Outside of her work as a health and mom blogger, she loves traveling the world and exploring the great outdoors with her family.

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