February 1, 2024
The loss of family members and friends is an inevitable part of life. Bereavement leave policies recognize the emotional toll this process takes on employees. In some places, this leave is a legal requirement. In all places, employers can support employees with bereavement leave as they work through their grief.
While bereavement leave is an important facet of employers’ benefits and talent strategies, it is so much more than that. It is a way to help employees balance the demands of work with the harsh reality of life and loss.
The Basics of Bereavement Leave
Grief significantly impacts individuals’ ability to function — both at home and in the workplace. Bereavement leave addresses this as a specific type of time off for those who have lost a loved one. In some cases, bereavement leave policies extend beyond immediate family to friends, pregnancy loss and more. The primary purpose is to provide employees with the time to make arrangements and begin healing without worrying about work responsibilities.
Currently, bereavement leave policies are dictated at the employer level. However, there are fundamental components of a standard bereavement leave policy:
The policy must clearly state who qualifies for bereavement leave — full-time only or full-time and part-time. Does your organization operate in multiple states? Each could have specific laws that need to be considered.
A standard bereavement leave policy must also include how much time off eligible employees receive. Again, this is currently dictated by employers, but remember to consider applicable state laws. The most common number is three days of time off, but policies range between one and five days.
Leaders must decide whether time off comes with or without pay. Once again, local laws must be considered, but most organizations must make this decision independently.
Policies should be specific — is bereavement leave given for the death of only immediate family members or extended relatives, friends or even pets. It is up to employers to clearly define the line.
What is the process for requesting bereavement leave. Some employers require copies of an obituary or death certificate. Consider how to build a policy that is standardized and fair without putting undue stress on an employee who is already in the middle of a difficult situation.
More states are implementing bereavement laws. Employers (or their broker partner) must keep up to date on the laws that apply to their workforce. Beyond legal concerns, employers should build a bereavement policy that considers their employees needs while staying in line with best practices:
Have a policy
While we covered the basics of a bereavement leave policy above, we wanted to state the need for a policy clearly. A documented policy is the foundation for success.
Offer additional support
When it comes to loss, a few days off don’t cut it. Evaluate your benefits and educate employees on support services such as counseling or an employee assistance program. These resources enhance your bereavement leave with long-tail support for coping with grief.
Be flexible and seek to understand
No two people grieve the same way. Employers have significant flexibility with bereavement support and should consider the individual’s unique grieving process. If possible (and necessary) consider additional time off, flexible work arrangements and return-to-work support as your employee navigates the fallout of their loss.
Policies aren’t people — an obvious statement at first glance. However, direct managers and supervisors are the human component of your bereavement policy. Equip them with training to handle conversations about grief and loss with their team. Resources could include lessons on the emotional impact of loss, demonstrating empathy and maintaining confidentiality.
Bereavement leave may not be a legal requirement for you… yet. Regardless, it is an opportunity to support your people in tough circumstances. Consider how your organization could build a policy that builds trust, loyalty and fosters a workplace of empathy. Have any questions? Don’t know where to start? Click below to reach out to one of our benefits strategists.