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Defined: What is Bereavement Leave?

Defined: What is Bereavement Leave?

One of the hardest parts of an HR manager's job is offering guidance and support when an employee loses a loved one. Bereavement leave is a topic that no one wants to dwell on, but it’s critical that employers are prepared with policies in place if it happens at your organization. What is bereavement leave and how can employers best help their employees during that time?


What is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave is time off taken by an employee due to the death of another individual, most commonly a close relative or a loved one. During this time, the employee typically attends to matters regarding family, funeral services, and other end-of-life concerns. 

Depending on the company or organization, this is either offered as an unpaid benefit or as a paid benefit. Paid or unpaid, offering bereavement leave is a quality-of-life benefit that can help employers attract and retain employees. Usually, bereavement leave is either outlined by an official policy or provided on a case-by-case basis.


Are Employers Legally Required to Offer Bereavement Leave?

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA), employers are not required to pay employees for time not worked, including bereavement leave for attending a funeral or attending to post-death arrangements. There are also currently no federal laws requiring employers to provide bereavement leave—also referred to as funeral leave by the Department of Labor—and the only state that requires it by law is Oregon.

Regardless, as previously mentioned, offering this as an option for grieving workers and their families can dramatically improve or sustain an employee’s feelings towards their company.


What Should Be Included in a Bereavement Leave Policy?

Usually, bereavement leave is either outlined by an official policy or provided on a case-by-case basis. A bereavement policy, outlined in an employee handbook or Culture Guide, should address the following details:

  1. Paid or Unpaid: Is your organization’s bereavement leave paid or unpaid? This will most likely depend on your organization’s benefits and paid time-off (PTO) policy. Is it separate from your organization’s PTO policy?
  2. Length of Time: How long is the bereavement leave period? This might vary based on the employee’s relationship to the deceased, whether or not they have to travel, and other details.
  3. Limitations: Are there limitations when it comes to what qualifies as bereavement leave? Does the policy only apply to the loss of an immediate family member, or does it extend to other relatives and close friends?
  4. Process: How does an employee go about requesting time off? Do you have a system in place to track the time off, like an all-in-one HRIS?

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