What is Bereavement Leave from Work?

An employer’s guide to bereavement leave, and what it means to your business

bereavement leave policy at work

If you worked for a company before starting your own, chances are you never gave things like bereavement leave a second thought. Now that you’re running the show (and responsible for following employment laws), questions like “What is bereavement leave anyway and what does it mean for me!?” probably run through your head more often than you ever thought possible.

The good thing is that, with the right information, you can get started with a basic understanding of bereavement leave in general, what federal laws affect it, and what the unique situation is in your state.

What is bereavement leave and who is entitled to it?

Bereavement leave is a special type of work leave given to employees who have just had someone close to them, generally an immediate family member, die. It makes sense to give people the time off they need so they can attend to things like traveling to see family and making funeral arrangements, plus it also gives people the time to grieve.

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

Where it gets fuzzy, though, is figuring out who constitutes immediate family for your employees. While it’s generally accepted that immediate family members include spouses, children, parents, grandparents, in-laws, stepchildren, grandchildren, siblings, and the like.

While this might seem straightforward, in today’s day and age, family means different things to different people. Close friends often function like family members, as do pets and people with other important relationship, like mentors or even ex-spouses that can leave an employee to deal with deeply grieving children.

Many employers opt to outline which relationships qualify for bereavement leave in their employee handbooks, should the company offer it at all, which brings us to the next question …

Am I required to offer bereavement leave?

The short answer is: maybe. The longer answer: is it depends on the state in which 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. In this state, anyone who has worked more than 180 days and averages 25 hours a week or more is entitled to 2 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 is bereavement leave in terms of federal and state laws?

Because there are no federal laws requiring bereavement leave, there’s no definition of bereavement leave on the federal level. On the state level though, there are a variety of takes on the matter.

Notably, Oregon and Massachusetts are the only states that require bereavement leave to be paid. New York considered requiring employers to offer 12 weeks of paid leave, but Gov. Andrew 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.

That said, many employers opt to offer bereavement leave, whether it’s paid or unpaid, even though it isn’t required by law. When it comes down to it, offering some type of leave for the death of a family member is a smart practice.

When faced with the decision of keeping a job or attending the funeral of someone near and dear to them, those with the option to leave their job behind likely will.

A few days off in exchange for keeping your employees isn’t a bad idea, but the beauty of bereavement leave laws is that the choices is yours.

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