What Is Bereavement Time Off?

Bereavement leave is intended to help employees grieve when dealing with the loss of a loved one

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Dealing with the death of a loved one is difficult. An employee may request time off from work during this emotional time.

But what exactly is bereavement leave? How long should an employee get off? What events qualify for leave? Here’s a primer on the basics of bereavement time off.

What is bereavement time off?

Bereavement time off (sometimes called bereavement leave) is a type of time off that employees can take if someone close to them (typically a close relative) has died.

Bereavement time off is not mandated at the federal level — it’s something that is dictated at the state level, so the first thing you’ll want to do is check your state laws.

As of 2020, Oregon is the only state that requires bereavement leave for certain qualifying employees. However, because the death of a loved one is often a grief-filled, many employers opt to offer it regardless of the lack of a mandate.

Bereavement time off not only gives people the necessary time they need to grieve, but it allows them the space necessary to make any sort of funeral or burial arrangements, which can be time consuming.

Who is eligible for bereavement leave?

Because bereavement time off isn’t mandated, all of the questions around who is and isn’t eligible and how it should be handled are essentially up to you, the employer. You can decide that all employees are automatically entitled to bereavement time off or you can stipulate that it’s a benefit that kicks in after a certain length of employment, perhaps after an initial probationary period. That said, because many workers will choose their family over a job, it’s smart to put a bereavement policy in place for all employees from day one in order to retain talent.

Is bereavement time off paid or unpaid leave?

In your bereavement leave policy you’ll want to cover whether or not bereavement time off is paid or unpaid and whether or not employees can use flex time, sick days, or other paid time off options to cover bereavement leave in the event that your bereavement time off policy doesn’t allow for the number of days they need.

Should proof be required for bereavement time off?

You can certainly require proof as part of your bereavement policy if you’d like, but it’s important to think through what an acceptable form of proof would be. Will you want to require a grieving employee to produce the death certificate of their spouse? Remember that, as an employer, how you handle bereavement for one employee is being watched by other employees. Opinions will be forming about what they can and cannot expect from you as an employer should the time come that they need to take bereavement time off. This plays a major role in how company culture is formed.

What else should be included in bereavement time off policies?

You’ll want to be as clear as possible in your bereavement time off policy. You’ll want to note how many days off, if any, your employees are entitled to. (This typically varies by the closeness of the relative — immediate family tends to warrant 3 or more days off, while more distant relatives might require 1 day to attend a funeral or other related service.)

Remember that different religions have different requirements and rituals around death that can require more than just a few days off. Also, if your employee finds themselves legally responsible for the deceased person’s affairs, the time necessary to carry out their duties can extend well beyond just a few days.

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