What is Bereavement Leave? A Quick Guide

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Bereavement leave is intended to help employees grieve when dealing with the loss of a loved one. Learn what is required as employer in this short guide.

The only things certain in life are death and taxes–and business owners must deal with both. When it comes to dealing with the issue of death in the workplace, bereavement leave can be an emotional issue, so it’s important to have a clear understanding of what it is and the federal and state laws that govern it.

What is bereavement leave and who is entitled to take it?

Bereavement leave is a special type of work leave given to employees after a close family member dies. This leave provides workers with time away from work to make arrangements, attend wakes, funerals or other memorial ceremonies, and to process their grief in private.  

Who is considered “immediate family” when it comes to bereavement leave?

Determining who qualifies as “immediate family” can get fuzzy, though. It’s generally accepted that immediate family members include spouses, domestic partners, children, parents, grandparents, in-laws, stepchildren, grandchildren and siblings.

While this might seem like a straightforward determination, it’s important to remember that family often means different things to different people and relationships can be complicated. Close friends sometimes function as family members. Relationships with mentors, neighbors and even pets matter deeply to people, and the death of an ex-spouse might leave an employee  left to handle their grieving children.

For employers who choose to offer bereavement leave, many outline which relationships qualify in their employee handbooks.

Am I required to offer bereavement leave?

The short answer is: maybe. The longer answer depends on the state where your company does business.

There are no federal laws requiring employers to offer their employees bereavement leave. However, things change on the state level.

Oregon, for example, requires employers with more than 25 workers to give their employees bereavement leave. Anyone who has worked more than 180 days and averages 25 hours a week or more is entitled to two weeks of bereavement leave for each deceased family member. The only caveat is that the leave has to be taken within 60 days of the death.

What federal and state laws govern bereavement leave?

Because there are no federal laws requiring bereavement leave, there’s no definition of it at the national level. On the state level, though, there are a variety of interpretations of the matter.

Notably, Oregon and Massachusetts are the only states that require paid bereavement leave for certain employees. New York considered requiring employers to offer 12 weeks of paid leave, but Governor Cuomo vetoed the bill. Illinois mandates that employers allow up to 10 days of unpaid bereavement leave and Maine requires leave for the death of an active duty member of the Armed Forces.

Even so, many employers do choose to offer some form of bereavement leave. It’s smart and compassionate to do so. When faced with deciding between keeping a job or attending the funeral of a close family member, people will leave the job so they say goodbye to their loved one.

This article is intended only for informational purposes. It is not a substitute for legal consultation. While we attempt to keep the information covered timely and accurate, laws and regulations are subject to change.

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