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Bereavement Leave - What You Need to Know

Dealing with the death of a family member is never easy. Take the time to educate yourself on bereavement leave so you are prepared when the time comes.

One of the most important parts of healing after any loss is taking the time you need to process your emotions and begin to have some sort of closure. Part of doing that might include requesting a bereavement leave, which is essentially taking time off from work immediately after the death of a loved one or family member.

Bereavement is a normal part of end-of-life planning, and it’s imperative that we acknowledge our need to go deal with our grief. This can be incredibly difficult, and a lot of us don’t know how we’ll react until we’re facing it head on. 

Understanding the details about your company’s bereavement leave (also commonly known as compassionate leave) policy is important so that you’re not having to navigate figuring out what you deserve, and what you can ask for, in the middle of your grieving process. It might help make an excruciatingly difficult time just a little bit easier if you know your workplace’s policy. Whether you’re facing an eventual loss of a loved one, or you’re experiencing an unexpected loss at this very moment, use this guide to learn more about the bereavement leave process.  

What is Bereavement Leave? 

Bereavement leave is the time you may take off from a job after a loved one passes away. While there isn’t any federal law in place that standardizes or mandates that leave is offered to employees, many employers do offer some sort of bereavement policy.

Because there isn’t any sort of mandate regarding bereavement leave, employer policies can widely vary. But generally, if you’ve recently lost a loved one, you may be able to use bereavement leave, if it’s offered, to grieve, make funeral and burial arrangements, plan a funeral, or even attend services. Perhaps the most important component of bereavement leave is the time it can give you to heal and process your grief.

Bereavement Leave vs. Compassionate Leave - What’s the Difference?

While there are two common names used for this type of employment leave, bereavement and compassionate leave both mean essentially the same thing. They’re both terms used to describe the time off an employee can take to use for personal matters after a loss.

Other Common Questions About Bereavement Leave

Despite the concept of bereavement leave being seemingly very simple, people often have various questions about it. Below, we cover some of the more common concerns about bereavement leave policies.

Is There a Standard Bereavement Leave Policy?

No, there is currently no national standard regarding bereavement leave policies. In fact, companies are not even required to offer this type of leave. Policies from company to company can vary in terms of pay that would be offered, duration of time allowed and many other factors.

Not only are there no federal bereavement leave laws, but even at the state level, most do not clearly spell out any sort of requirements for employers in regards to what they must offer. In fact, currently only two states require companies to offer some form of bereavement leave.

It’s largely up to individual private companies, collective bargaining agreements or contract agreements to create policies.

How Long is Bereavement Leave?

How long you’re allowed to take off varies from company to company, but according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, up to three days is fairly standard for the death of an immediate family member, and one day is the norm for extended family members. The average is usually anywhere from one to five days.

The state of Oregon mandates bereavement leave be offered by companies who employ more than 25 people. State law says up to two weeks may be taken, within 60 days of learning of a death. It’s important to note, they do not require the time off be paid. 

Another state, Illinois, has a law requiring bereavement leave be offered after the loss of a child. The Child Bereavement Leave Act is only mandated for companies who employ 50 or more people, and they must allow for 10 days to be taken (unpaid).

What is Considered Immediate Family for Bereavement Leave? 

As there’s no official, federal law regarding bereavement, there isn’t a standard definition in regards to whom it should apply to. Typically, “immediate family” would qualify. This could be defined as:

  • A parent or stepparent

  • A spouse

  • A child or stepchild

  • A sibling/brother in-law or sister in-law 

  • A grandparent

  • A grandchild

  • A son-in-law/daughter-in-law

Is Bereavement Leave Paid or Unpaid?

Generally speaking, compassionate or bereavement leave is unpaid. That said, it is not totally uncommon for employees to be paid through Personal Time Off (PTO) allowances.

How to Ask for Bereavement Leave?

Asking for bereavement leave might feel a bit uncomfortable, especially because as we grieve, our emotions are likely running high. 

If you can, it’s best to give your employer a heads up if the loss is expected. If you know that death is imminent, it’s very likely that your work may be a little off in those final days and weeks. Letting your employer know what you’re going through can be helpful, so they have a better understanding of your state of mind and where you’re coming from.

If the passing was unexpected, a phone call or email may suffice to explain your situation and request time off.

All that said, there’s a human factor to loss, something we can all understand. Even if you’re worried about asking for time off after the death of a loved one, remember that in most cases, your employer will be sympathetic to your loss.

Tips for Respecting Bereavement Leave

Do you have a friend, coworker or boss who’s recently experienced a loss? It can be hard to know exactly the right words to use after someone has passed away, but reaching out in any form, as a show of support, is almost always appreciated. If you’re not sure about what to say, just remember to speak from the heart. Showing you care and are thinking about them with a sweet condolence message is always a good idea.


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