Bereavement leave

Bereavement Leave: An HR Guide

Losing a loved one is extremely difficult and coping with loss can look different for everyone. During times of grief, work should take a back seat as people spend time with family, friends, and other loved ones. Many companies offer bereavement leave as a way to give employees space and time for mourning and tending to familial obligations.

Bereavement leave and employer policies continuously change, but there are some basic considerations that you should be aware of - including whether you need to pay your employees during their leave and how much time off work employees are entitled to.

Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about bereavement leave. 

#1 What Is Bereavement Leave?

Beravement leave is time off an employee takes after the death of a loved one. Currently, there is no federal law mandating that employers provide bereavement leave.

That said, many employers do offer the benefit to their employees, and the duration of the leave depends on employer policy, contract agreements, or collective bargaining agreements. Employees can use the time for funeral leave, mourning, coping with loss and grief, and spending time with loved ones.

#2 Is Bereavement Leave Paid?

Bereavement leave is typically unpaid; however, some companies offer one to five days of paid time off (typically depending on the relationship to the deceased).

Employees are often able to use PTO or unpaid personal leave for any additional time required or requested.

#3 How Does Bereavement Leave Work?

If bereavement leave is offered, the company policy should outline the duration of the leave and what situations qualify.

If an employer does not offer bereavement leave, employees have a few options. An employee can usually use paid time off, request an unpaid personal leave of absence, or work remotely.

Be sure to check with your state and/or city to see what bereavement leave you’re entitled to before speaking to your employer.

#4 Who Is Considered Immediate Family for Bereavement Leave?

If bereavement leave is available, consult the employer policies to see which family members are covered.

Usually, companies define “immediate family” as a parent, grandparent, spouse, sibling, or child. Though rare, some policies may include extended family and close friends.

#5 How Do Employees Take Bereavement Leave?

It can be difficult to anticipate a death in the family, but employees should try to give employers as much notice as possible so alternative coverage can be arranged.

To make this process less of a burden, HR should ensure that employees know who to reach out to, even after hours. Usually, a quick phone call or email is sufficient. Due to the emotional nature of losing a loved one, it might be easier for employees to communicate through email, rather than by phone.

#6 How Long Is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave can range vastly across organizations. However, the standard is typically three to five days for loss of an immediate family member.

In some instances, managers or department leaders may be more lenient and provide their direct reports with as much time as needed for coping with loss, grief, and mourning. Other companies may require employees to utilize their paid time off for any days not covered under their policy.

#7 Does the Family Medical Leave Act Cover Bereavement?

No, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not apply to bereavement. The FMLA gives employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to:

  • Care for a newborn child;
  • Bond with a newly adopted child;
  • Care for a family member with a serious illness; and
  • Care for their own serious health condition.

To qualify for FMLA leave, individuals must have worked for their employer at least 12 months and have put in at least 1,250 hours over the course of the year. An employee can use FMLA leave to care for a living family member. After their passing, an employee will have to request bereavement leave or use their vacation days to make funeral and post-death arrangements.  

#8 Do States Offer Bereavement Leave?

Only five states —California, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, and Washington— have bereavement laws in place. 

Oregon: The Oregon Family Leave Act has been in effect since 2014, requiring companies with over 25 employees to offer up to two weeks of unpaid bereavement leave to eligible employees. To qualify, employees must be with the company for at least 180 days and work at least 25 hours a week.

Illinois: Originally, the Illinois’ Child Bereavement Leave Act of 2016 (CBLA) provided bereavement leave for parents mourning the loss of a child. Employers with more than 50 employees must offer these individuals up to two weeks, or 10 work days, of unpaid leave to plan or attend a funeral, make arrangements, and grieve. Employees become eligible after working 1,250 hours during a 12-month period. However, in 2023, the Family Bereavement Leave Act (FBLA) amended the CBLA to expand its bereavement leave to a “covered family member”—defined as a child, spouse, domestic partner, sibling, parent, parent-in-law, grandchild, grandparent, and step-parent—and includes covered losses outside of death, such as miscarriage, assisted reproductive failures (i.e. IUI, IVF, surrogacy, adoption), or other medical conditions impacting fertility.

Maryland: Under Maryland’s Flexible Leave Act (MFLA), employers with 15 or more employees are required to allow employees to use available paid leave for covered bereavement purposes. The MFLA defines “immediate family member” as children under the age of 18, children over the age of 18 who are dependent on others due to mental or physical disability, spouses, and parents.

California: California labor laws mandate employers with five or more employees to provide up to five days of time off for bereavement leave. Covered employees are defined as those who have been employed by their employer for at least 30 days prior to bereavement leave. Covered employers include those in the state of California and any political or civil entity of the state with five or more employees. Covered family members include spouses, children, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, domestic partners, and parent-in-laws.

Paid vs unpaid bereavement leave is dependent on the existing employer policies. For example, if an employer policy offers up to four paid days of the five days for bereavement leave, the employer does not have to pay for the fifth day of bereavement leave but must allow the employee to take the unpaid day for bereavement purposes.

Washington: Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave provides that employees are entitled to bereavement leave during seven calendar days following the death of a family member if the employee would have (1) qualified for medical leave for the birth of their child; or (2) qualified for family leave. Employers are not required to provide employees additional bereavement leave outside of the benefits described. 

#9 What Is in a Company Bereavement Leave Policy?

Companies who offer the benefit typically provide three to five days of paid bereavement leave to employees. Some companies provide more days for immediate family and fewer days for extended family and close friends. Longer leave of absences can qualify, but the specifics are up to you and your company.

Be sure to define the following details within company policies:

  • How many days an employee can take off
  • Which employees qualify for bereavement leave
  • What relatives company policies cover
  • Who employees need to notify prior to taking bereavement leave
  • Whether bereavement leave can be taken injunction with other paid leave plans
  • Whether the leave is paid or unpaid

Offering bereavement leave is a great way to support your employees during their most challenging times, but it isn’t the only way to show employees that you care.

Incorporating remote work, unlimited or flexible time off, sabbaticals, and other time off opportunities into your existing time off plans are other ways to give your employees flexibility.

For more ideas and tips on how to incorporate bereavement leave into company policies and other employee morale boosters, download our Guide to Boosting Employee Morale eBook.

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