Betty Long talks about bereavement leave in Employee Benefit News, suggesting that issues related to grief in the workplace are likely to increase due to an aging workforce. She notes that this is an issue between employer and employee – there are no fair labor standards that require payment for funeral leave. Even the FMLA, which allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, does not encompass funeral or bereavement leave.

To our knowledge, there are no state laws mandating such a benefit. Recently, a proposed mandatory bereavement leave was vetoed in California. Rather, funeral and bereavement leave is a voluntary benefit that many employers extend to their employees on either a paid or unpaid basis. The article states:

“According to a 2007 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 69% of employees in the private sector get paid funeral leave. Among companies with 100 employees or more, the number rises to 81%, while only 57% of small businesses with workforces of under 100 provide funeral leave.”

According to the 2010 SHRM benefits survey, at 89%, paid bereavement leave was the second most commonly offered leave benefit after holidays (97%). Employers that do provide for paid leave generally allow 2 to 3 days per year. Often, when employers don’t offer paid leave, they may allow an employee to take unpaid time or may be allowed to use sick, vacation, or personal days.

Employers also frequently struggle with which family members should be covered by a funeral leave policy. Some policies make reference to “immediate family members,” while others outline a complicated formula that applies a graduated number of days or hours, depending on the relationship. Once again, we point to employment law attorney Michael Maslanka’s sensible suggestions for a bereavement leave for the 21st century

Given the business we’re in, we see the devastating impact that grief can have on person, and how the intensity can vary based on the relationship with the decedent, the circumstances of the death, and the emotional and psychological makeup of the person who is experiencing the loss. While any policies and benefits need to be consistently applied, we favor flexibility in applying other leave – such as vacation or personal days. But helping an employee deal with grief is not all about time off – it’s also how the employee is treated on their return to the workplace and the day-to-day routine. Employers and supervisors need to understand the grief process and should make outside resources like an EAP or counseling services available. The following tools also can be helpful to share with managers:

When an Employee is Grieving
Grief & Loss: Guidelines for Supervisors
Helping Colleagues Deal with Grief
The Bereaved Employee: Returning to Work


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