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Understanding Bereavement Leave Laws for Employers

6 min read
bereavement leave law

In times of loss, employees need support from their workplace. As an employer, it may be difficult, uncomfortable, and confusing to find the right response to offer an employee who is grieving. This short guide on bereavement leave law is designed to help employers understand and implement bereavement leave policies. From the basics of what bereavement leave means to its legal aspects, we’ll explore the essential elements. By the end, employers will be better equipped to provide compassionate support during the challenging moments when employees need it most, as well as understand the legal issues of bereavement time off.


What is Bereavement Leave?
Is Bereavement Leave Federal?
Which States Have Bereavement Leave Laws?
Who can take bereavement leave?
Is Bereavement Leave Paid?
Is Bereavement Leave the Same as PTO?
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How to support grieving employees as a manager

Supporting a bereaved employee is essential for their well-being and productivity. A good manager knows when to focus on an employee’s well-being, instead of placing immediate company results at the top of the list of priorities.

Here are some ways you can provide support:

1. Express Condolences

Begin by expressing your condolences. Let the employee know that you are sorry for their loss. A simple, sincere expression of sympathy can go a long way.

2. Offer Time Off

Be flexible with time off. Bereavement can be a challenging time, and individuals may need time to grieve and attend to practical matters related to the loss. Ensure that your company policies allow for bereavement leave.

3. Communicate Compassionately

Communicate with empathy. Let the employee know that you understand the emotional difficulty they are going through and that you are there to support them.

Communication is one of the most important HR soft skills to master. The right words at the right time can go a long way, and sometimes, silence is golden.

4. Check-In Regularly

Regularly check in with the bereaved employee. Grief is a process that takes time, and ongoing support is crucial. Ask how they are doing and if there’s anything you or the team can do to help.

5. Provide Resources

Offer information on available resources, such as counseling services or support groups. Some companies may have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that can provide additional assistance.

6. Flexible Work Arrangements

Be open to flexible work arrangements if possible. This could include bereavement leave, remote work options, adjusted schedules, or reduced workload during the initial stages of grieving.

7. Respect Privacy

Respect the employee’s privacy. Grieving is a personal process, and not everyone may want to share details. Be supportive without prying.

8. Team Support

Encourage a supportive team environment. Let the rest of the team know about the situation (with the employee’s permission) so they can offer support and understanding. A good work culture is also one where employees feel secure and part of, not just productive.

9. Memorial Contributions

Consider making a memorial contribution or gesture on behalf of the team or the company. This can show solidarity and support during a difficult time.

10. Return to Work Transition

When the employee is ready to return to work, facilitate a smooth transition. Discuss workload, responsibilities, and any ongoing support they may need.

Remember, everyone grieves differently, so it’s important to tailor your support based on the individual’s needs and preferences. Additionally, be mindful of the cultural and religious practices that may influence the grieving process. It’s important to practice inclusion at the workplace, and not throw the words diversity, equity, and inclusion around without actually following the guidelines in practice.

What is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave, also called compassionate leave, is a type of employment benefit that allows employees to take time off from work following the death of a close family member or loved one. This period of leave is granted to employees to provide them with the necessary time and space to cope with their loss and attend to funeral arrangements and other related matters.

Bereavement Meaning

Bereavement refers to the state of mourning and grief experienced by an individual after the death of someone close to them. It is a deeply personal and emotional process, and employers must recognize the importance of supporting their employees during this challenging time.

Bereavement Leave Definition

Bereavement leave is a specific form of time off granted to employees to deal with the practical and emotional aspects of losing a loved one. This type of leave allows employees to attend funeral services, console family members, and address other immediate needs without the added stress of work obligations.

Do employers need to offer employees bereavement leave?

In the United States, bereavement leave is not mandated at the federal level. The absence of federal regulations means that bereavement leave policies are typically determined by individual employers. However, certain states have implemented their own laws regarding bereavement leave.

That said, different rules apply for military personnel, first responders, and a few other cases. Find these rules explained below:

Funeral Leave for Combat-Related Death of an Immediate Relative

Employees are granted up to 3 workdays of funeral leave for making arrangements or attending the funeral of an immediate relative who died due to wounds, disease, or injury incurred while serving in the Armed Forces in a combat zone. The 3 workdays need not be consecutive if satisfactory reasons are provided.

What does “Armed Forces” mean?

The term “Armed Forces” encompasses the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, along with Reserve components, National Guard, and Air National Guard.

What are “Combat Zones”?

Combat zones are areas designated by the President, in accordance with section 112 of the Internal Revenue Code, where the Armed Forces are engaged in combat.

Immediate Relative Definition

Immediate relative includes a broad range of relationships such as spouse, parents, children, siblings, grandparents, step-parents, step-children, foster parents, foster children, guardianship relationships, same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners, and spouses or domestic partners of the aforementioned.

Funeral Leave for First Responders

Federal law enforcement officers or firefighters can be excused from duty on bereavement leave without loss of pay or charge to leave when attending the funeral of a fellow officer or firefighter killed in the line of duty.

Funeral Leave for Veterans Participating in a Funeral Ceremony

Veterans of wars or campaigns, or members of honor or ceremonial groups, may take up to 4 hours of excused absence without loss of pay to participate in funeral ceremonies for Armed Forces members whose remains are returned from abroad.

Military Leave for Funeral Honors Duty

Members of the National Guard or Reserve components of the Armed Forces are allowed military leave for attending funeral honors duty.

Sick Leave for Bereavement

Employees can use up to 104 hours (13 days) of sick leave annually for family care and bereavement, covering arrangements required by the death of a family member and attendance at the funeral of a family member.

Which States Have Bereavement Leave Laws?

It is crucial for employers to be aware of the regulations in their respective states to ensure compliance. States like Oregon, California, and Illinois are known for having specific bereavement leave provisions.

States with bereavement laws:

Who can take bereavement leave?

Employers who fall under the specified criteria are required to grant you bereavement leave in the event of the passing of your spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or parent-in-law. Additionally, at the employer’s discretion, bereavement leave may be permitted in the case of the demise of another individual with whom you share a significant relationship.

Is Bereavement Leave Paid?

Whether bereavement leave is paid or unpaid depends on the employer’s policies and the laws of the state in which the company operates. Some employers offer paid bereavement leave as part of their benefits package, while others may require employees to use accrued paid time off (PTO) or vacation days. It’s important for employers to clearly communicate their bereavement leave policies to employees to avoid confusion during difficult times.

Setting up and communicating your time off policies is crucial. Sometimes, the amount of requests you get from employees can be confusing. HR software can help you streamline the process with time off management features.

Do you have to use PTO for bereavement

Bereavement leave and paid time off (PTO) are distinct concepts, although they share similarities. PTO typically encompasses various types of leave, including vacation time, personal days, and sick leave. Bereavement leave, on the other hand, specifically addresses the time needed following the death of a loved one. Employers should clearly outline the differences between bereavement leave and PTO in their company policies to avoid any misunderstandings among employees.

In conclusion, while bereavement leave is not federally mandated in the United States, it is a crucial aspect of employee support and can contribute to a compassionate and understanding workplace culture. Employers must be aware of state-specific regulations and clearly communicate their policies to ensure that employees have the necessary time and support to navigate the challenging process of grieving.

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How can Factorial help keep track of employee leave?

Factorial is a one-stop-shop for all things HR management. It is a single, centralized hub that streamlines all of your HR processes, including your time off management. Employees can easily request days off through Factorial’s mobile app or from their desktop computer, and managers can conveniently approve or reject the time off request. Replace the old email and excel sheet methods of time off tracking and use HR software to keep a log of how many leave days, holidays, and paid or unpaid time off employees have remaining. The software is fully customizable to suit your business needs. Book a demo with an HR specialist to learn how Factorial can support your company now!

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Did you like this article? Benjamin McBrayer has been a Content Writer for 5 years. He specializes in HR strategy and workplace trends. Check out Factorial's blog for more of his posts on time management in the office, productivity, and HR news.

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