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Is Bereavement Leave Paid? Understanding Employee Compensation During Times of Loss


Introduction

When a loved one passes away, it puts emotional and mental stress on those left behind. Not only this, but the death of a family member also brings several logistical, financial, and administrative tasks to handle. As an employee, you may need time away from your work to address funeral arrangements, tend to other affairs, or grieve after the loss of your loved one.

The combined mental, physical, and emotional pain can sometimes be a lot for someone to handle, and the purpose of a bereavement leave is to help grieving employees by giving them the time they need to process and plan certain things.

Usually, it gets really uncomfortable and confusing to respond to someone who has lost a loved one, especially for an employer. Whatever the case, the other person has lost someone from their life, and the least employers can do is to support the grieving employee during these difficult times. The employer can support the employee by providing them a bereavement leave.

What is a Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave, also known as compassionate leave, is a time-off benefit that is typically offered by employers to employees who have lost a loved one. The intention of a bereavement leave is to allow employees to grieve, attend funeral services or a memorial, or deal with financial and legal matters that may come up after death.

The loss of a loved one also impacts an employee’s emotional state and affects their ability to perform efficiently at their job. Bereavement leave policies are usually outlined in the employee handbook if the company has one. The policies might differ from company to company based on the human resource department, but the purpose of the leave remains the same throughout.

Employees who wish to take bereavement leave should notify their supervisor as soon as possible. The supervisor will then work with the employee to determine the appropriate leave dates. Generally, bereavement leave is taken in the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death, however, the timings could change depending on the circumstances.

Is it Mandatory for Grieving Employees to Take Bereavement Leaves?

There are not currently any federal laws that require employers to offer bereavement leave to their employees. However, a few states have laws and regulations related to bereavement leaves, such as:

California: Eligible employees can take up to five days of bereavement leave for the death of a family member. This applies to employers with five or more employees.
Illinois: Eligible employees can take up to two weeks of unpaid bereavement leave for the death of a family member or losses related to fertility, pregnancy, surrogacy, and adoption. This applies to employers with 50 or more employees.
Maryland: Eligible employees get five days of paid sick time or three days of bereavement leave for the death of an immediate family member. This applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
Oregon: Eligible employees can take up to two weeks of bereavement leave for the death of a family member. This applies to employers with 25 or more employees.
Washington: Eligible employees can take up to three days of bereavement leave for the death of an immediate family member.

Bereavement leave may or may not be mandatory in your state, but with the state laws changing frequently, you must familiarize yourself with the laws in your area to avoid any problems in the future.

Who Can Take a Bereavement Leave?

As said earlier, bereavement leave is most commonly used by individuals who have recently lost a loved one. Some employers offer bereavement leave as a standard benefit, while others allow employees to use personal or vacation days for this purpose.

Some companies may restrict bereavement leave to apply only to full-time employees who lose an immediate family member; other employers may offer more comprehensive policies that support any employee affected by a death.

If there are no laws in your area regarding bereavement leaves, then it is up to you whether or not you want to provide this benefit to your employees or not. Many companies offer this benefit to their full-time employees, and not to employees who are in entry-level positions or working as part-time officers.

How Long is a Bereavement Leave?

The average bereavement leave policy grants an employee three to four days off for the loss of an immediate family member, like the employee’s spouse or children, and less time for the loss of extended family members or friends.

However, the length of bereavement depends on several factors, such as the relationship between the employee and the deceased, the position of an employee, etc. At some companies, employees can even negotiate for additional time off by getting permission to take paid vacation days, sick leave, or unpaid time off.

Companies that do provide bereavement leave may provide paid, unpaid, or a mix of both. Since there are no federal laws regulating bereavement leave, the policies are offered on an individual basis mostly, depending on the situation or the case. Even though it is not required, most companies still offer paid leave to employees who have lost a loved one. Some companies even provide up to four weeks of paid leave, because generally, anyone who works at a company full-time is considered an eligible employee.

Offering paid leave to employees who are dealing with grief is the right thing to do and is also a really smart move. Employees who feel valued and cared for at work are more likely to stick around with the company. Thus, reducing employee turnover and increasing employee loyalty. Since businesses work on cost-benefit analysis, whatever funds are spent on paid leave are way less than turnover costs.

Just as taking sick leave ultimately boosts productivity, encouraging employees to attend to their emotional and physical well-being, makes them more engaged and productive when they return. While any type of guaranteed leave is beneficial, paid leave gives your employee one less thing to worry about during a critical time.

Is it Necessary to Ask for the Proof of Loss?

Since there is no law for bereavement leave, it is entirely dependent on the employer whether to ask for proof of loss from their employee or not. Generally, a death certificate is sufficient to prove loss. However, depending on your relationship with the person, a death certificate may not be available, so other alternatives could be used too.

Other forms of documentation might include a prayer card, a funeral program, or just the name of the deceased. The HR department should be able to provide an easy answer about what documentation is needed to prove the loss when the employee makes their leave request.

What to Include in a Bereavement Leave Policy

Although bereavement leave is not legally mandatory, it is still a best practice for every company, whether small or big, to offer some form of it. Companies can support their employees by creating a clear and comprehensive bereavement leave policy.

The policy will differ from company to company, but there are certain elements that almost every policy should include:

Guidelines

This section mainly includes information about attending the funeral, managing financial or personal details, and recovering mentally and emotionally.

Eligibility

The policy also has to state which employees can benefit from the policy and who cannot. You need to make it clear that only full-time employees are eligible for bereavement leave or something related to that.

Procedures

This element of the bereavement leave policy can help you and other team members understand how to ask for a leave of absence and provide details about the benefits available.

Duration

The most important part of the policy is the duration of the leave. The policy also has to state whether an employee can extend their paid leave to unpaid leave and how they can do that. Understanding the company’s policies helps guide the employees’ decisions and makes it easier for them to plan for unexpected circumstances.

Creating a Bereavement Leave Policy

Creating a bereavement leave policy is important for all companies, no matter of their size. A stated policy can help make the bereavement leave process easier for both an employer and employee in the middle of a difficult time. As an employer, you can follow the following steps to create a bereavement leave policy:

Step 1 – Decide on the Amount of Time and Pay to Allocate for Grieving Employees

The first step in creating a bereavement leave policy is to determine how much time grieving employees will earn in the case of a loss and what part of that time will be paid and unpaid. As said earlier, three days is the minimum amount of time that is provided to grieving employees as a part of their bereavement leave. However, the three-day time limit is not mandatory, a company can even increase the time period if they want.

Many companies give at least one day of paid time off for all other losses including extended family and friends. A company could also give options to their employees to use their sick or vacation leaves if they want to extend their bereavement leave. This normally helps for deaths that occur out of state or country.

Step 2 – Offer Support to the Grieving Employee

It is important to extend your sympathy to employees who are suffering from the loss of their loved ones. Apart from all the documentation and formalities, you should focus on the part that an employee has lost a loved one, which is surely a hard time for that employee. The basic human etiquette suggests that in such critical times, the employer should support the employee, and express their care for what that employee must be experiencing in their time of grief.

Step 3 – Make All the Policies Clear

A bereavement policy should clearly explain how the employer and employee are going to handle the leave. You must outline all the steps an employee should take in the event of a loss, including whom to contact, how to make arrangements when they are away from work, and whether or not the employee needs to provide any documentation related to the deceased.

Make sure that the process is quite simple and not too difficult for the employee to handle. Since the employee is already going through a lot, you must ensure that following the protocol does not take much of their time. Moreover, you should also clearly mention the criteria for the death of an immediate family member and also the death of an extended family member or friend.

Step 4 – Create an Official Document

Once you have structured the entire format of the bereavement leave policy, you should then start putting it into writing. Create a digital document that is included in company manuals, both in printed and online versions. Include the policy with your onboarding materials and make sure that all Human Resource staff members and HR Professionals understand the standards and processes involved in initiating the bereavement leave policy for an employee.

Every employee should be aware of the policy, and it is your duty to ensure that the policy is accessible to all employees. You can either use a prepared template or create your own by including all the necessary information that is required to create an effective bereavement leave policy.

Tips for Employers Whose Employees are Grieving

It is not easy to lose someone, the person leaves but they leave behind unforgettable memories and their loved ones. If your employee has recently lost someone, then as a manager, it is your basic responsibility to help them in every possible way. Here are a few tips for employers whose employees are grieving:

Show Empathy

You must support grieving employee during their difficult times, give them some time to resume work and encourage them to focus on themselves and take care of their health.

Remain Flexible

Time is key in the process of grieving. Grief is not limited to the timelines of benefits, company policies, and work deadlines. As a manager, you need to understand the need for team flexibility in these sorts of critical times. To support the grieving employee, you can take help from some other team member, or divide their work amongst the team so that the employee on bereavement leave can put their main focus on things that are currently important.

Open Communication

Bereavement leave is specifically used after the death of a loved one. However, you must remember that grieving often precedes an event, such as anticipatory grief, which is common when someone is given a terminal diagnosis. You may not realize an employee is dealing with grief, so having a culture of open communication can help a lot in situations like these.

Payment Flexibility

During bereavement leave, the employee is generally not working since they are busy handling other personal affairs. Therefore, as a manager, you should not deduct their salary during their time of leave and flextime.

Avoid Calling for Work-Related Matters

Usually, employers are mindful of this, however, it is important to highlight that whenever an employee is grieving, you should never call them for work-related matters. Whatever the task is, it could wait, and if it is something that is urgent, you can contact any alternative person or a person in that employee’s team. An employee on bereavement is already juggling with time to complete the funeral arrangements or something similar, therefore, you should avoid calling them and disturbing them in any way.

Ask for Assistance

As human beings, we have to show basic decency to another party to ask for any sort of assistance or help. You can send a donation, food, or flowers to the grieving employee, and ask if other assistance is needed from your side. Showing this little act of kindness will help the grieving employee, and it will also strengthen the employer-employee relationship.

To Sum Up

The loss of a loved one is surely a life-changing process, which starts with grief and ends with it. Grief is not the only challenge one faces, it is also followed by chronic stress, depression, anxiety, and the inability to move on.

In these critical times, bereavement leave provides the emotional space that employees need to deal with both the logistical and emotional aspects of the death of a family member in a healthy way. It is a proactive measure that is critical in supporting mental fitness, both in and out of the workplace.

Offering bereavement leaves reflects that the organization values its employees and makes them feel that they are worthy of care and support. Even if the organization can afford only one paid day of leave, but even offering that level of leverage to the employee can help them cope with stress and sudden grief. As an employer, offering bereavement leave to your grieving employees is the least you can do at their hardest time.