Woman grieving after taking time off for bereavement care as an employee benefit.

5 minute read

Bereavement Care: Build a Culture of Trust & Engagement

Learn how to build a culture of trust and engagement within your company through implementing bereavement care policies.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States is experiencing a historic increase in deaths each year. The annual death count is expected to reach over 3.6 million in 2037. For context, the count was 2.6 million in 2015.

This dramatic uptick in annual deaths is largely due to our aging population. The Baby Boomer generation is our second-largest generation after Millennials. They are aged between 59 to 77 years old today, and the proportion of Baby Boomers who pass away is increasing dramatically with each passing year. 

These deaths have been and will impact younger generations in droves. For every individual who passes away, they leave behind an entire tribe in grief. Aside from grieving, a person’s passing can create a large set of new responsibilities for their closest loved ones.

Employers will face an increasing share of workers who are impacted by these deaths, which will thus impact their work and productivity. Providing bereavement care for grieving employees is essential to creating a responsive and supportive workplace. Further, it will help protect the company’s bottom line by protecting employee retention and productivity.

What is bereavement?

Bereavement describes an emotional state of being that an individual experiences when they have lost someone important to them. It is a period of time associated with feelings of grief and mourning, although this length of time is undefinable and is highly personal. 

When an employee loses someone, they may need to request leave from work to have time to process their loss, to grieve, to attend the funeral, and/or to help attend to the deceased person’s estate planning matters. This is known as bereavement leave.

What is bereavement care?

Bereavement care is a relatively new type of employee benefit that employers can offer. It provides formalized care and support for an employee who needs to take a leave of absence when they’ve lost a loved one. Experiencing grief while navigating administrative responsibilities will render an employee unable to work for some time. Employment at a workplace that offers this benefit can make this challenging time much less stressful. 

When would an employee utilize bereavement benefits? 

It’s easy to believe that bereavement care would only be utilized directly following the loss of a loved one. However, bereavement benefits may be taken advantage of at different times.

First and foremost, grief has no clear-cut timeline. Debilitating grief can impact an individual long after their loved one’s death, meaning they may need support at any given time. They may require assistance in identifying the resources that will best support them.

Additionally, the death of a loved one often creates administrative challenges. Regardless of whether the deceased left behind an Estate Plan or not, settling their affairs can take hundreds of hours. The responsibilities can amount to a temporary full-time job for the appointed Administrator or Executor. A supportive workplace will allow the employee to handle their administrative responsibilities without fearing job loss.

Bereavement laws & policy

Unfortunately, any federal laws that apply to bereavement provide minimal protection. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require an employer to pay an employee when they take time off to attend a funeral. Further, federal law does not require employers to pay an employee if they take sick leave or a personal leave of absence. Job protection during leaves is only provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which does not include bereavement. 

This means that any protections or benefits for bereavement leave must either be mandated by the state or provided voluntarily by the employer. Oregon, Washington, and California are the only states that currently require every employer to offer bereavement leave. Illinois and Maryland require bereavement leave of employers over a certain size. 

The majority of states do not require bereavement leave, and the few that do offer limited care. For instance, California’s bereavement law (AB 1949) just went to effect this year.  It requires employers to allow an employee to take up to 5 days of bereavement leave following the death of an immediate family member. 

Here is an example of how a mandated employer may develop a bereavement policy:

  • Ensure policy is in line with any legal obligations

  • Define length of paid time off employees are given following a loss

  • Define the scope of loss to which the bereavement policy will apply (immediate family, pets, close friends, etc.)

  • Whether employees are permitted to use other forms of leave following bereavement

  • Whether flexible solutions are available, such as colleagues donating leave to one another

  • Stance regarding extended leaves of absence

Why provide bereavement benefits?

While an employer may choose to offer a bereavement policy that meets the state mandate, there are significant advantages to offering comprehensive bereavement benefits that far exceeds the minimum requirement:

Here are some advantages to consider:

  • Boost workforce productivity by helping reduce stress, anxiety, and burnout due to loss

  • Improve employee retention by letting them know that their jobs are protected

  • Send a message of compassion to help build trust and respect

  • Build a grief-inclusive workplace culture that supports the emotional wellbeing of employees during challenging times

  • Become an industry leader by offering a unique yet much-needed benefit while attracting and retaining top talent

What can bereavement care look like?

Because so few states mandate employers to offer bereavement leave, the standards for bereavement care are still being shaped. An employer may develop an in-house bereavement care program and/ or partner with third parties that provide services.

Here are examples of how a bereavement care program could support employees far beyond a standard bereavement policy:

  • Administrative support through estate settlement, probate and inheritance

  • Assistance and resources for funeral and memorial planning

  • Emotional support, including grief counseling, check-ins, and returning to work

  • Financial assistance programs and resources

  • Offering unrestricted time off work with job protection

How to support employees through loss/grief

Companies have an opportunity to build a workplace culture of trust and engagement by supporting employees through grief. While bereavement care benefits will support employees for some time, there is no expiration date on grief. Therefore, an employee will appreciate support when they first learn about the loss and thereafter, such as when they’ve returned to work and resumed daily tasks and responsibilities.  

  • Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that will support the grieving individual at the workplace, which provides access to a counselor

  • A personalized return-to-work plan designed to prevent overwhelm

  • Coordinate with colleagues to take over the employee’s work during their leave so that tasks and projects do not pile up

  • Allow flexibility, such as an option to work from home or modify office hours

  • Provide training and resources for employees on how to support colleagues through bereavement, what to say or what not to say, etc.

Estate planning can help

Offering bereavement care may no longer be a luxury, but a necessity for employers. With the issue of our aging population and a blooming death count, the share of workers being impacted by the loss of a loved one will continue to climb. Employers concerned with attracting and retaining a talented workforce and preserving company culture will certainly have better odds of succeeding by offering a comprehensive bereavement care package. It is a strong addition to a company’s value proposition in a competitive job market.

Third party services can help bolster a bereavement care program. For instance, Trust & Will’s Probate is a program that helps individuals navigate the probate and estate settlement process with confidence. Probate is notoriously costly, stressful, and time-consuming. Support in this area alone will immensely reduce the stress associated with the administrative burdens of loss.

Further, an employee who has experienced loss is likely thinking about their own future. Offering estate planning services is a great value proposition for employees who want to get their affairs in order and secure their financial future. Trust & Will is here to help. You can create a fully customizable, state-specific estate plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning and settlement  options today!

Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Browse more topics in our learn center or chat with a live member support representative! 

Trust & Will is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice.


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