Benefits & Perks

Understanding the Importance of Bereavement Leave

A Guide for Compassionate Business Owners

Blog Author - Keertana Anandraj
Keertana Anandraj
Apr 24, 20245 minutes
Blog Author - Keertana Anandraj
Keertana Anandraj

Keertana Anandraj is a part-time freelance writer and full-time sustainability analyst. Before Justworks, she began her freelance career writing for The Financial Diet and Career Contessa. She currently resides in New York City.

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Running a business comes with its fair share of challenges, from managing finances to keeping clients happy. But there's one aspect that often gets overlooked: supporting your employees through tough times, especially when they experience the loss of a loved one. Losing a loved one is a difficult and emotional experience. During this time, the last thing an employee wants to worry about is work. That's where bereavement leave comes in.

In this article, we'll explore the importance of bereavement leave and the different policies and laws surrounding it.

What is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave, also known as compassionate leave, is a type of leave that allows employees to take time off from work to grieve and attend to funeral arrangements after the death of a loved one. This leave is typically unpaid, but some companies may offer paid bereavement leave as part of their employee benefits package.

Different Types of Bereavement Leave Policies

Bereavement leave policies can vary from company to company. Some companies may offer a set number of days for bereavement leave, while others may have a more flexible policy. Here are some common types of bereavement leave policies:

  • Fixed Number of Days Off: Some companies offer a predetermined number of days off for bereavement leave, typically ranging from one to five days. These policies often specify the relationships for which leave is granted (e.g., immediate family members, close relatives) and the duration of leave for each relationship.

  • Flexible Leave Arrangements: Other companies opt for more flexible bereavement leave policies that allow employees to take time off as needed, based on their individual circumstances and the nature of their relationship with the deceased. This approach recognizes that everyone grieves differently and may require varying amounts of time off to cope with their loss.

  • Paid Leave: Some employers provide paid bereavement leave as part of their benefits package. Paid leave policies can alleviate financial stress for employees during an already emotionally challenging time.

  • Extended Leave: In some cases, employees may need more time off than what is offered in a standard bereavement policy. In these cases, employees may be able to take extended leave or use other types of leave, such as vacation or sick leave.

  • Additional Support Services: In addition to time off, some companies offer additional support services to employees experiencing bereavement, such as counseling resources, flexible work arrangements upon return, or assistance with funeral arrangements. These services can help employees feel supported and valued during their time of need.

Laws Surrounding Bereavement Leave

Currently, there is no federal law in the United States that requires employers to offer bereavement leave. However, some states have their own laws regarding bereavement leave. Here are a few examples:

  • California: California requires employers with 5 or more employees to provide up to 5 days of unpaid bereavement leave for the death of a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or domestic partner. Note that this does not have to be paid and only applies to employees who have been employed for at least 30 days.

  • Maryland: In Maryland all employers with 15 or more employees are required to provide accrued paid leave for their employees. This accrued paid time comes from sick leave, vacation time, and other compensatory time for the loss of a spouse, parent, or child.

  • Oregon: Oregon requires employers with 25 or more employees to provide up to two weeks of unpaid bereavement leave following the death of a family member. This leave can be used for attending the funeral or handling related arrangements.

  • Illinois: Illinois recently passed the Bereavement Leave Act, which requires employers with over 50 employees to provide up to 10 days of unpaid bereavement leave for the death of a child, spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent, grandchild, or domestic partner.

  • Washington: In Washington all employers are required to provide paid bereavement leave of up to 3 days. In addition, eligible employees may use family leave of up to 7 days in case of the death of a child. Note this bereavement leave is paid and employees can ask for additional paid time off from accrued vacation, sick leave, personal holidays, and other compensatory time. 

It's important for small business owners to familiarize themselves with the specific laws and regulations governing bereavement leave in their state and to tailor their policies accordingly. Additionally, seeking guidance from legal experts or professional organizations can help ensure compliance with relevant laws while providing meaningful support to employees during times of loss.

Why is Bereavement Leave Important?

Bereavement leave is important for several reasons:

Allowing Employees to Grieve and Heal

Losing a loved one is a deeply personal and emotional experience that can take a significant toll on an individual's mental and physical well-being. Bereavement leave provides employees with the necessary time and space to process their grief, mourn the loss, and begin the healing process without the added stress of work responsibilities. 

Supporting Work-Life Balance

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential for overall well-being, and bereavement leave plays a crucial role in supporting this balance during times of crisis. By granting employees time off to attend to family matters and prioritize their personal needs, employers demonstrate their commitment to their employees' holistic well-being.

Showing Compassion and Support

Offering bereavement leave isn't just about complying with legal requirements or company policies—it's about demonstrating empathy, compassion, and support for employees during one of the most challenging periods of their lives. By extending a compassionate gesture and acknowledging the significance of their loss, employers can strengthen their relationship with their employees and foster a culture of care and understanding within the workplace. 

Employees who feel supported and valued by their employers are more likely to remain loyal, engaged, and motivated in their roles. By prioritizing employee well-being and demonstrating genuine concern for their welfare, employers can cultivate a positive work environment where employees feel respected, appreciated, and supported through both good times and bad.

How to Handle Bereavement Leave Requests

Handling bereavement leave requests with sensitivity, compassion, and efficiency is crucial for supporting employees during their time of need. Here are some key steps to effectively manage bereavement leave requests:

  • Communicate Openly and Compassionately: When an employee informs you of a bereavement-related need for time off, approach the conversation with empathy and understanding. Express your condolences and assure them that their well-being is your priority. Create a safe space for them to discuss their situation and any specific needs they may have.

  • Be Flexible and Accommodating: Recognize that every employee's grieving process is unique, and their needs may vary. Be flexible with scheduling and workload adjustments to accommodate their absence. Consider offering options such as remote work, flexible hours, or temporary reassignment of duties to help ease their transition back to work when they're ready.

  • Provide Clear Guidance on Leave Policies: Ensure that your company's bereavement leave policy is clearly communicated to all employees. Outline the eligibility criteria, duration of leave, and any documentation requirements. Be transparent about the process for requesting and approving bereavement leave, and address any questions or concerns they may have.

  • Maintain Confidentiality: Respect the privacy of the employee and their family during this sensitive time. Keep details of their situation confidential and refrain from discussing it with other employees without their explicit consent. Encourage open communication while upholding confidentiality to foster trust and respect in the workplace.

  • Offer Additional Support Resources: In addition to granting time off, consider offering additional support resources to employees, such as access to counseling services, employee assistance programs (EAPs), or bereavement support groups. Provide information about available resources and encourage employees to seek support as needed.

  • Prepare for the Employee's Return: As the end of the bereavement leave period approaches, discuss with the employee their plans for returning to work and any accommodations they may require. Offer a smooth transition back to their regular duties and provide any necessary support to help them readjust to the work environment.

  • Document Leave and Maintain Records: Keep accurate records of the employee's bereavement leave, including the dates of absence and any documentation provided. Ensure compliance with company policies and applicable labor laws regarding leave entitlements and record-keeping requirements.

By handling bereavement leave requests with care and compassion, you can demonstrate your commitment to supporting employees during difficult times and foster a culture of empathy and understanding in the workplace.

How Justworks Can Help

Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) like Justworks PEO can be invaluable allies for small businesses looking to navigate the complexities of employee benefits and policies, including bereavement leave. By partnering with Justworks, you can access expert guidance on developing comprehensive leave policies, staying compliant with state regulations, and offering additional support services to your employees during times of bereavement. 

Plus, Justworks can handle administrative tasks like payroll processing and benefits management, freeing up your time to focus on supporting your team and growing your business.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.
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Written By
Blog Author - Keertana Anandraj
Keertana Anandraj
Apr 24, 20245 minutes

Keertana Anandraj is a part-time freelance writer and full-time sustainability analyst. Before Justworks, she began her freelance career writing for The Financial Diet and Career Contessa. She currently resides in New York City.

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