Surrounding the death of a loved one, you may need some time off work. Here’s how to ask for bereavement leave and learn what you can expect from your employer.
When a close family member passes away, it can be a traumatic and heartbreaking experience for surviving loved ones. During this difficult period, you may want to take some time off work. However, you might not know the expectations. How much time off can you receive, whom should you ask about it, and how does it all work?
Understanding bereavement leave before you need it can make this stressful experience easier to navigate on the job front. This article explains how to ask for bereavement leave and what you can expect from your employer while you’re grappling with the death of an immediate family member or loved one.
What is bereavement leave?
Bereavement leave is a type of leave available to employees in the time after the death of family members or close loved ones. Bereavement time gives an employee a chance to disconnect from work to tend to grief and logistical matters. They may need to travel to spend time with family, arrange funeral plans, attend services, and help with other responsibilities.
Employers aren’t required by federal law to provide bereavement leave. However, some state laws require companies to offer it in specific situations. Offering paid bereavement is also optional. Yet multiple recent-year surveys have reported around 90% of participating companies provide it as part of their benefits packages.¹
Is bereavement leave paid?
Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. It all depends on the company’s bereavement leave policy. Most employers will cover a few (typically 1-5) days of paid bereavement leave, depending on the employee’s relationship with the deceased. For example, they may allow more paid leave for immediate family members like parents than for a cousin. If paid is not offered, the bereaved employee may take unpaid leave upon supervisor or HR approval.
How do I know if I qualify for bereavement leave?
The employee handbook should lay out a company’s stance on bereavement leave. That includes any days that will be paid, the relationships it covers, and how long the employee can take. Reading up on this before a loved one’s death is a good way to proactively prepare. Employees can also ask HR to explain the company’s bereavement policy and how it applies to their specific situation.
What’s the best way to ask for bereavement leave?
If you’re getting ready to ask for bereavement leave, you’re probably already upset and emotional. Here’s the easiest process for securing leave before heading to be with your loved ones.
Figure out who you need to contact to request it
The HR manager is often the best person to start with to formally request bereavement leave. From there, you may need to inform your direct supervisor of the situation and your plans.
Make the bereavement leave request as soon as possible
Bereaved employees shouldn’t delay in notifying their company they will be taking bereavement leave. Reach out to the appropriate company contact as soon as you can emotionally handle it. If you delay requesting time off until the last minute, it could be denied. Even if you don’t know the exact time you’ll need off (for instance, the funeral arrangements haven’t been set yet), your employer will appreciate being kept in the loop. It also often helps to let coworkers and managers know your situation. They can then be more attentive to any special considerations regarding grief in the workplace in the wake of your loss.
If you suspect you may need an extended period of time off, you may need to write an official leave of absence letter.
Be specific about the request
Transparency helps the process move faster and secure any leave requests you need. Share your relationship to the deceased person, the city and state to which you’ll be traveling (if applicable), and the amount of time you would like off work.
Tidy up work before leaving
It may be the last thing you feel like doing, but take care of your responsibilities before you start your leave. Set the auto-responder on your email and an away-from-office voice message on your phone. Email your coworkers when you’ll be out of the office, and ask your supervisor to reassign your responsibilities during your absence.
What if my company doesn’t offer bereavement leave?
Many companies incorporate a generous paid leave policy within employee compensation packages. (A few even go as far as offering paid bereavement for a pet.) But some don’t. If you cannot access paid bereavement leave, there may be other options available. Ask your supervisor if you can use paid vacation time to cover your days of bereavement. Depending on the company, you may also be able to take sick leave. If you’ve exhausted every avenue of securing paid leave, your supervisor may allow you to take off a few days without pay.
When you’re handling the death of a loved one, dealing with work may be the last thing on your mind. Take a few minutes to collect yourself before talking with HR. Ask how much bereavement leave you qualify for, and get it scheduled. Proactively handling your work responsibilities in advance can free you up mentally. You’ll likely be better able to disconnect from job-related concerns and focus on your loved ones during this time of loss.
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1 Leave and Flexible Working – SHRM Employee Benefits 2019
2 2019 Benefits Leave Report, NFP and Helios HR