What is Bereavement Leave? [And Why It’s Important]

Updated on December 2nd, 2020
What is Bereavement Leave? [And Why It’s Important]

Loss affects our ability to focus on work and often leaves us feeling overwhelmed. It’s an inevitable part of life, but many businesses don’t understand the importance of providing bereavement leave for their employees. 

The fact is, bereavement leave isn’t a legal necessity but most businesses should offer their staff time off to deal with losing a loved one. You don’t have to include bereavement time off in an employees contract, but most specialists recommend that you offer some type of leave during difficult times. In some cases, employers grant time off but refuse their employees bereavement pay.

Not giving your employees bereavement leave might increase employee disengagement and higher employee turnover rates. Also, not offering this might have a negative impact on the overall employee experience.

Here’s everything you need to know about bereavement leave. 

What Is Bereavement Leave? 

Bereavement leave is time off when a close relative dies. If you give an employee bereavement leave, you can decide whether to offer bereavement pay. It’s common for most employers to give their team members up to three days off when a close relative passes away, but some are reluctant to offer paid leave for extended family or close friends. 

During bereavement leave, your employees can arrange a funeral, grieve and plan with other family members. 

If you’ve ever suffered a loss, then you’ll know how hard it is to concentrate on work while you’re trying to grieve, so bereavement leave can be very beneficial. While most employers are understanding during times of loss and will offer bereavement leave there’s no law stating they must do so. In fact, Oregon is the only state that ensures employers grant their staff members bereavement leave. 

Why Is Bereavement Leave Important? 

Deciding whether to offer bereavement leave is a common issue for businesses, but it shouldn’t be. The main reason companies refuse bereavement time off or bereavement pay is the worry of profit loss and understaffing. However, reports show that not implementing a bereavement policy is counterproductive. A large number of managers focus on aspects like performance management or employee incentive programs, leaving bereavement leave at the bottom of the priority list. 

Most businesses offer their employees a maximum of three days leave in the event of bereavement and don’t think about their own experiences with loss. Have you lost someone you loved? Could you deal with that loss in three days? Of course not! The biggest issue with short bereavement leave is employees have to return to work but they’re not in the best frame of mind. 

We all handle grief differently, and while some people use work as a distraction, others need time to deal with their loss. If you don’t allow your employees to address their grief, they could be susceptible to depression, anxiety, insomnia, and even breakdowns. Specialists are advising employers to adjust their bereavement policies so that employees get more time to deal with the complex grief process

Numerous studies show that grief reduces productivity, and companies can lose money if they don’t have a good bereavement policy. Those affected by loss are more understanding of their employees, but most companies offer the bare minimum bereavement leave. 

The Legal Stuff 

The Fair Labor Standards Act ensures employees get fair wages and treatment from their employers. However, they have no specific laws or guidelines about bereavement pay. While most companies offer a form of bereavement leave, it’s worth considering including bereavement pay for your employees. We’ve all dealt with loss in our lives and showing your team you support them at a difficult time will increase their loyalty to the company. 

Oregon is the only state that has bereavement leave legislation in place. Employees that work at least 25 hours a week for 180 days out of the year are automatically entitled to two weeks of paid bereavement leave. Illinois allows leave if a child passes away, but companies are only subject to the law if they have 50 employees or more. 

In all other states, bereavement leave is up to the company. This means you get to decide how much bereavement leave you should offer, and whether to pay your employees. Remember, that people are entitled to paid sick leave, so why shouldn’t they have time off in the event of a loss? Think about how your employees are feeling and try to understand their circumstances. Loss is one of the hardest experiences we ever must face, and offering paid bereavement leave as part of an employment package can help you build a more productive workforce in the long term. 

Introducing a Bereavement Leave Policy

If you’re struggling to implement a bereavement leave policy, these are the vital things you need to consider. 

How Much Should I Pay?

The biggest problem with bereavement leave for employees is that companies can decide how much they pay or if they pay at all. However, this proves beneficial for employers, especially small business owners. Some employers want to offer bereavement leave but worry about the financial implications.

Many businesses offer their employees three days paid bereavement leave and two unpaid days. Doing this allows you to show your team that you’ll support them through difficult times and minimize the financial implications. Most people understand that their bosses have financial responsibilities and appreciate being offered time off. 

If you own a larger company, then you should think about your responsibility to every employee and aim to introduce a more comprehensive bereavement leave policy. Businesses that have the resources should allow their team a reasonable amount of time to grieve and note the example other companies are setting. 

Facebook is one of the largest companies in the world, and its bereavement policy reflects their success. The company offers its staff members 20 days of paid leave for a close family member and 10 days for extended family. The company attributed its policy to the experiences their senior management team has had with loss, understanding how important time off to grieve is. 

Bereavement pay shouldn’t be a luxury, but something every employee can expect during times of need. In recent years businesses have noticed the importance of a work-life balance and stress is the number one cause of workplace absences. Forward-thinking employers recognize that the happiness of their staff is central to a company's growth and continued success, so we can only hope other companies follow in Facebook's footsteps. 

Asking For Bereavement Leave 

The last anyone wants to do is speak to their employers when in an emotional state. Loss affects everyone and you should try to console your employee and understand they’re emotional. Empathy is key to dealing with bereavement effectively, and this helpful guide can make your workplace a more harmonious place. 

How you handle bereavement leave requests depends on how large your company is, and the working environment you create. Professional companies with lots of staff members will probably have a dedicated HR team to handle bereavement requests and a set of guidelines and policies they must follow. If you own a smaller company and have a strong relationship with your employees, they’ll probably come to you directly with their requests. 

If you will offer bereavement leave to your employees, consider asking them to request it in writing. You can set up a company procedure for handling requests through email or writing. Not only will this make it easier for you to keep track of the requests, it’s also better for your employees as many won’t want to come into work and speak to you if there is a sudden loss in their family.

You can arrange a meeting with your employee if you’d like to negotiate their bereavement leave, but it’s vital to ensure any agreement you both reach is recorded in writing. 

If you're interested in learning more about bereavement leave, then check out our HR Certification Courses.

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What If I Can’t Offer Bereavement Time Off? 

If you’re a small business owner, it’s difficult to accommodate your employees during a bereavement. Some businesses rely on their staff and cannot afford to offer bereavement pay. However, if you’d like to support your team members during a bereavement there are some ways around the situation. 

You can discuss a range of options with your employee, but one of the best ways to allow them time off to grieve is by asking them to use some of their sick days. The law states that a person can take sick leave when a close family member dies if they’re attending a funeral.

 The US Office of People Management allows employees to use 13 days of sick leave each year to deal with family issues. However, if the individual is planning or attending a funeral, then you’re only allowed a maximum of three days. 

If your employee has used their sick days already, ask them to use their personal days as bereavement leave. Most people want to attend a funeral and spend time with their family so they’ll agree to your suggestions. 

Outline Your Policy

If you're creating a bereavement leave policy, make sure you outline it in employees contract. Your bereavement policy should include: 

  • How many days you allow off. 
  • How many hours an employee must work to qualify for leave. 
  • Which relatives the policy covers.
  • How to request bereavement leave. 
  • The amount of bereavement pay you offer. 

Unfortunately, some employers don’t understand how important bereavement leave is and refuse to accommodate their employees. As the law stands, there’s nothing an employee can do about this but the negative effects of bereavement can impact your company. 

Bereavement leave is about saying goodbye to our loved ones and taking time to grieve. If you’re unable to bereavement time off, try to accommodate your employees needs and be understanding. Remember, an individual's health should always come first so explore every avenue possible to enable your employees time to readjust to normal activities. 


If you are new to Human Resources and are looking to break into a HR role, we recommend taking our HR Certification Courses, where you will learn how to build your skillset in human resources, build your human resources network, craft a great HR resume, and create a successful job search strategy.