How Employers Can Approach Bereavement Leave 

Losing a loved one is a very sensitive matter. Any employer should approach this issue with care and consideration. Many people find this topic difficult to talk about or express their feelings openly. Therefore, employers and HR managers need to be aware of the best practices for approaching bereavement leave. It will help manage the situation and comfort employees in their time of grief. 

Today we’re going to look at the ins and outs of this delicate matter and some best practices for approaching this type of leave. 

Bereavement Leave Meaning 

A question many workers may ponder is “Can you have time off work for a death in the family?” Although the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require employers to provide this leave to employees, many do offer it. It is known as bereavement or compassionate leave

Bereavement is the period of mourning after the death of a loved one. It is typical during this time for people to experience grief. Grief affects us all in different ways. Some may cope better than others. Yet, in some cases, people may be incapable of carrying out the simplest of tasks, let alone working. In this case, it is common for employees to ask for time off work in order to grieve at home alone or with family. Not only this, but employees may have to deal with a whole host of tasks including funeral arrangements and other pressing post-death matters. Time taken away from work to deal with these matters is commonly known as bereavement time off. 

Of course, when a member of your team suffers a loss, it’s a tough time for everyone. Employees work together every day, and some develop lifelong relationships. As such, colleagues may also feel the burden of another worker’s loss. Morale may be low and it may seem as if there’s a grey cloud hanging over the office. While thinking about the business is important, taking care of your employees and prioritizing their well-being should also be high up on your list of priorities. 

As an employer, it is important that you know the best approach to take to support your employees during this difficult time. 

compassionate leave

Bereavement Entitlement

So, who do you get bereavement leave for? Typically, it is offered to those who have lost an immediate family member or partner. However, in some cases, this may be extended to the death of other relatives and close friends or associates. 

Employees may ask you, “How much time can I take off for bereavement?” As previously stated, there are no federal laws regarding bereavement time off. Therefore, employers are not obligated to provide paid or unpaid time off in this case. Yet, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires some employers to provide their workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for specific health and family reasons. FMLA leave is not a type of compassionate leave. However, in some cases employees can use this Act to have leave during times of loss. For instance, a worker may be able to use the FMLA to get leave to take care of a dying family member, or for grief counseling.

Curious to know how bereavement is dealt with in California? 👉 Bereavement leave in California

For cases that are not supported by the FMLA, there are some general guidelines that can be followed here. Most organizations offer employee time off for bereavement for up to three days in their bereavement leave policy. This is in the case of an immediate family member or partner. Yet, one day is usually only offered for more distant relatives and friends. This is because, in this case, it is thought that less personal time is needed for arrangements related to death. These are tasks that are typically carried out by closer family members.

It is up to the employer to decide whether this time is paid or not. That being said, it is good practice to pay the first three days of this leave. Although the FMLA provides the opportunity for employees to take time off, it does not obligate employers to provide paid time off. 

Bereavement Leave Policy 

It is important to have an employee bereavement policy in place for when a worker comes to you with a leave request of this type. If you don’t already have one, then here are some simple guidelines for what to include in yours. 

Amount of time off 

First and foremost, it is important to establish the amount of time off you’re willing to give to your employees for a bereavement. The most common amount is three days, but this can be amended depending on the worker’s relationship to the deceased.

For whom leave can be taken

You may want to establish for whom employees are permitted to take leave. For example, you might allow leave for immediate family members including parents, partners and children. Yet, you may not want to permit leave for friends and extended family, such as an aunt, uncle and grandparents. Make sure to have this clearly stated in your policy. 

Paid or unpaid leave 

You are not obligated to pay employees for this type of leave. However, you may wish to do so. This is your decision as an employer. Make it clear what you are going to include in your policy to avoid any confusion with workers. 

Eligibility for leave 

Stating whether all employees will be eligible for this leave is another important issue to consider. Will it only be for full time workers? Or will part time workers also be eligible? Create a policy around what suits your business best. 

Proof of leave 

In order to ensure that workers are not abusing this policy, it might be a good idea to ask for proof of leave. In this case, it could be a death certificate, obituary or funeral program. Anything that can verify the death will suffice. Although it is a sensitive subject, it is important to ensure that no one takes advantage of his leave.

Make sure to keep track of the time off taken by employees. Keep up-to-date records and documents in order to oversee the management of this leave. 

employee contracts

States that have Legislated for Bereavement Time Off 

There are no laws surrounding bereavement on a federal level, yet individual States have taken matters into their own hands.

Time off for bereavement policy differs state to state, Oregon is the prime example. This State is one of the only States to have passed a law requiring employers to offer paid leave for bereavement. This law went into effect on January 1st, 2014. Massachusetts is another State to have recently passed a similar law. It requires that employers must pay workers who take time off in this case. Illinois mandates that employers provide up to 10 days of unpaid leave per death. Maine, on the other hand, now requires employers to offer leave to workers who suffer the death of an active duty member of the Armed Forces. 

Aside from these, there are no other States that have laws related to bereavement leave. If you’re not located in one of the States that enforces these laws, then you are free to make your own company policy; be sure to include it in the employee handbook.

Manage employee compassionate leave and other absence situations with Factorial.

Written by Charlotte Stace

This post is also available in: English UK

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