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Understanding Bereavement Leave: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated on :

April 11, 2024
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Understanding Bereavement Leave: A Comprehensive Guide

Losing a family member or a loved one is one of life's most tragic events, and it takes a toll on the person's mental health. For employees in an organization, when a family member or loved one passes away, the employee experiences severe mental and emotional stress, which can affect the employee's productivity and performance.

Aside from the combined mental and emotional turmoil the employee deals with, they are also physically stressed as their presence and finances will be required to manage the unfortunate situation. To assist during these challenging times, many organizations offer a policy known as bereavement leave.

What is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave is when an employee takes off from work following the death of a family member or a close friend. This period off can either be paid or unpaid and is provided for the employee to adequately grieve, be with their family members, attend funeral services and manage the legal or financial and legal matters that may arise after the death of the loved one.

Much like other forms of time off—such as unpaid leave, compensatory leave, and sabbatical leave—bereavement leave can provide an essential pause from work to tend to personal matters. For eligible employees, this can be up to two weeks.

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Is Bereavement Leave Required by Law?

While no federal laws require employers to provide bereavement leave to their employees, it is usually a subject to discuss with the HR team in the organization you work for. Typically, in the event of the death of a close family member or an immediate family member, employees take advantage of other leave provisions such as sick leave or additional paid leave, or paid time off (PTO) periods.

Also, the majority of the state laws across the United States make no provision for bereavement leave. However, various organizations establish clear leave policies that ensure grieving employees observe the required leave period to attend to all requirements that the period demands adequately. Some companies offer bereavement leave, and such information is usually found in the employee handbook.

While organizations typically do not have conventional bereavement leave time off, union employees can negotiate bereavement as part of a collective bargaining agreement. The union may also enable the employee to negotiate better terms or update the organization's policy regarding the bereavement leave duration, payment during this period, and any special demands the employee may require.

Is Bereavement Leave Paid?

The question of whether bereavement leave is paid or not varies significantly across organizations and jurisdictions. It's a matter that hinges on a combination of local labor laws, company policies, and, often, the culture and ethos of the organization itself. Some organizations offer paid bereavement leave.

Because there is no federal or major state law backing the provision of bereavement leave, it is up to the employer to provide payment for bereavement leave. Occasionally, it is usually unpaid.

In most cases, it depends on the employee's employment relationship with the organization. However, a formal policy ensures fairness and equity in paying a bereaved employee.

According to SHRM's Paid Leave Benchmarking Report, about 88% of organizations across all industries provide paid leave for employees that have lost a family member or a loved one.

Organizations need to provide paid leave to grieving employees as this period affects them severely psychologically. Often, employees incur significant expenses by organizing funeral services and memorials. Financial support during this period will make the employee feel valued, impacting the organization's retention strength.

Duration of Bereavement Leave

The length of bereavement leave can also differ considerably. Common practice ranges from a few days to a week. Certain factors, such as the deceased's relationship with the employee or the need for international travel, may lead to extended leave periods. For example, according to the UK’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), employers often allow more leave if the employee has lost a child or spouse.

Bereavement Leave Policy

Establishing a transparent and fair bereavement leave policy is pivotal to any organization's employee support system. It not only conveys empathy and understanding but also promotes a compassionate workplace culture.

Elements of a Bereavement Leave Policy

A robust bereavement leave policy should include several key components:

  • Eligibility: Clearly define who is eligible for bereavement leave, typically including full-time and part-time employees. Some guidelines also consider the employee’s relationship with the deceased, extending leave for immediate family members and a shorter leave for other relations.
  • Duration: Specify the duration of the leave. This is often determined by the relationship to the deceased, with ACAS advising more generous leave for the loss of a child or spouse.
  • Paid or Unpaid: Clearly state whether the leave is paid or unpaid. In the case of unpaid leave, employees should understand how this type of leave relates to other forms of time off, such as unpaid leave.
  • Procedure: Outline the process for requesting bereavement leave, including whom to notify and any necessary documentation.

How Bereavement Leave Fits Within an Organization's Broader Leave Policy

Bereavement leave should not exist in a vacuum but as part of a holistic view of employee leave and benefits. Its synergy with other forms of leave, like compensatory leave and sabbatical leave, needs to be considered.

Benefits of Bereavement Leave as a Statutory or Non-Statutory Benefit

While not always legally required, many employers provide bereavement leave as part of their statutory or non-statutory benefits. By doing so, employers demonstrate understanding and support towards their employees during tough times, reinforcing their commitment to employee welfare.

Paid Bereavement Leave as an In-Kind Benefit

Offering paid bereavement leave is an effective way of providing additional support to employees. It's a kind of in-kind benefit that helps to alleviate financial stress during an emotionally taxing period. This compassionate approach can foster greater loyalty and improve the overall employee experience.

How Employers Can Provide Extra Support After an Employee's Bereavement Leave

When an employee is ready to return to work following bereavement leave, it's not the end of their grief journey. The impact of such a significant loss often extends far beyond the time formally allocated for mourning. Here's how employers, particularly those in the tech industry, can continue to provide support and create an empathetic work environment.

Foster Flexible Working Conditions

Reintegrating into a work routine can be challenging after a loss. Offering flexible working conditions, including remote work options or adjusted work hours, can be incredibly helpful during this period. This flexibility allows employees to balance their emotional recovery with their professional responsibilities at their own pace.

Implement Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can be an excellent resource for grieving employees. These programs typically offer various services, including counseling, which can provide emotional support and coping strategies. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, EAPs can improve employee productivity and organizational effectiveness.

Encourage Utilization of Paid and Unpaid Leaves

In addition to bereavement leave, there are other types of leave that employees may find helpful during this time, such as unpaid leave, compensatory leave, and even sabbatical leave. Educating employees about these options and encouraging their use when necessary can provide additional support layers.

Facilitate Regular Check-Ins

Regular check-ins can show employees that their well-being is valued. This ongoing dialogue can help managers understand employees' readiness to resume full responsibilities and identify any additional support needed.

Promote a Supportive Company Culture

Creating a supportive company culture is critical. This might involve training on empathy and emotional intelligence, creating spaces for open dialogue about mental health, or fostering team support through group activities or team-building exercises. According to the American Psychological Association, such practices can improve team cohesion and overall employee well-being.

Consider In-Kind Benefits

Providing additional in-kind benefits, such as access to mental health resources, other personal days, or services like meal delivery, can also demonstrate empathy and understanding towards employees dealing with loss.

Easily Manage Bereavement Leave For Your Team With Skuad

Navigating the complexities of bereavement leave can be challenging for employees and employers. Its role in maintaining workforce well-being and resilience cannot be overstated, particularly in demanding fields such as tech. Employers must thoughtfully design and implement bereavement leave policies to provide essential support during their employees' most challenging times.

With Skuad, managing such crucial aspects of your global team becomes significantly easier. As a worldwide employment and payroll platform, Skuad enables organizations to hire full-time employees and contractors in over 160 countries without setting up subsidiaries or legal entities.

Through our platform, organizations can easily manage requests for bereavement leave and other types of leave while ensuring compliance with country-specific employment laws and tax regulations. We not only streamline the process of onboarding talent and managing payroll but also handle your entire employment lifecycle. This allows your organization to scale your business operations compliantly, with reduced effort and high-standard HR administration.

Like any other aspect of HR, bereavement leave should be handled with sensitivity, empathy, and compliance. With Skuad, you're well equipped to do just that, ensuring your team can always feel supported and valued, even in the face of life’s most challenging times.

To know more about how Skuad can revolutionize your approach to global HR, book a demo today.


How many days do you get off work for a death in the family?

Since there is no typical stipulation for bereavement leave, it is usually at the employee's and the organization's discretion. However, three to five days of time off is generally provided for bereavement leave.

What is bereavement pay called?

Bereavement pay is usually called grievance pay.

About the author

Catalina Wang is a Human Resource Consultant. She manages recruitment, onboarding, and contract administration staffing for many organizations and remote teams. She’s passionate about efficient HR management and the impact of tech on hiring practices.

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