Employee wellbeing should always be a business’s number one priority. This is never more true than at tough times in an employee’s life, like when someone close to them employee passes away. When this happens, bereaved employees shouldn’t have to worry about whether they’ll be allowed to take leave—every business should have a bereavement policy prepared clearly stating to what time off employees are entitled.
Bereavement Leave Policy
Federal law states that employees may use sick leave to attend a family member’s funeral. However, there are no federal laws mandating that employers offer paid bereavement leave—and only one state, Oregon, does so. Despite this, according to SHRM benchmarking, 88% of companies offer paid bereavement leave to full time employees.
The length of leave offered typically differs depending on the employee’s connection to the deceased. Businesses offer an average of 4 days for the death of a spouse or a child, 3 days for other close family members and 1 day for extended family members.
There are multiple reasons to grant generous bereavement leave. Employees are likely to have to attend—or organize—a funeral or even multiple religious ceremonies. In many cases this will require several days’ travel. If an employee is responsible for taking care of the deceased’s estate, they may be required to spend weeks taking care of obligations.
Giving Employee Time to Grieve
Bereavement leave is about far more than just logistics—it’s about giving employees the time they need. Everyone responds differently when grieving, and there are some employees who wish to keep working as a method of distraction. However, others will need to come to terms with their loss and to try to get their head straight—concentrating on being productive at work will simply be out of the question.
Employees will be grateful that you recognize that it is a distressing time and that they don’t need to beg for time off. You can earn loyalty and trust that will be paid back and more with increased employee engagement further down the line. It also shows the rest of your team that they work for a company which cares about them—everyone knows that it in future they could be in the same situation.
Offering Additional Time
Basic bereavement leave should be paid, or else many will feel pressure not to take it. The reality is, though, that for many employees no amount of time will ever be enough. A generous policy makes a lot of sense, but you also have to be prepared to offer a further extend period of leave, whether paid or unpaid.
Managers should talk with their employees to discuss whether they will require more time. This is especially likely if an employee is acting as the Personal Representative dealing with the deceased’s estate. However, they might just need more time to grieve.
Supporting a Bereaved Employee
It can be hard to know what to say to an employee who has suffered a loss. It’s generally not necessary to return gifts or send a company representative to a funeral, but this depends on an employee’s relationship with their manager and colleagues. Whether others in the organization know the reason for the employee’s leave should be left up to the employee—if they aren’t comfortable with sharing details, it should go unspecified.
Upon an employee’s return, managers should understand that it may take time for an employee to get back up to speed, and they should not expect peak performance. An employee can be directed to Employee Assistance Programs, which can offer helpful resources for an employee’s wellbeing.
Creating a Bereavement Policy
Once you’ve decided to create a bereavement policy, there are several essential questions you’ll need to answer:
- How much leave is granted in what circumstances?
As discussed, companies typically offer more leave for the deaths of closer relatives. This should be specified in the policy. However, if possible, try to leave room for flexibility.
- Can bereavement leave be repeated?
Unlike PTO, employees are generally not able to accumulate increasing amounts of unused bereavement leave over time. Instead, every bereavement is treated on a case-by-case basis.
- Who is eligible?
It should be clarified whether the policy applies to only full time employees or also those who are part-time, temporary and contracted. Additionally, you could choose to implement a minimum tenure requirement, but this is not advised.
- How can employees apply for bereavement leave?
In a stressful time, you won’t want employees to have to fill out too many complicated forms. Instead, an employee may be required to discuss the circumstances with their direct supervisor, who can make any necessary arrangements.
- Is proof of death required?
Generally you would not force employees to produce a death certificate to be granted leave. Instead, they can be required to give the name of the deceased, their relationship with them and the date of death.
Get Bereavement Policy Template
It’s essential that you have an effective bereavement policy before you need it. To help businesses, Paycor is offering a Bereavement Policy Template. Once downloaded, the text can be customized to the needs of your organization.