Employee benefits will always be a key concern for HR professionals and business owners. Satisfied employees are more productive, you’re more likely to retain them, and you can attract top talent with a solid benefits package.
You may be wondering how a giant organization like Amazon handles an employee benefit like bereavement leave, which can be as complex and controversial as it is important to workers. And how does Amazon stack up against other leading tech companies? As it happens, the answer is not very well.
Let’s take an in-depth look at Amazon’s bereavement leave policy, and I’ll offer my thoughts on impactful changes they could make to deliver a much better bereavement leave policy for their employees.
What Is Amazon’s Bereavement Policy?
Full-time employees at Amazon are entitled to three full days of paid bereavement leave, also called funeral benefits, for the loss of an immediate family member or parent. Part-time employees receive three paid, part-time days off.
This time is allocated to employees to take care of family affairs, make funeral arrangements, attend a funeral, and grieve.
The following are classed as immediate family members:
- It also extends to anybody that lives in the home permanently.
The term parent applies to adopted, step, or foster parents or similar guardians, and biological parents.
Amazon’s bereavement leave policy is subject to employees meeting specific requirements.
If employees fail to notify their supervisors properly prior to a shift or within 30 minutes of starting a shift, they may be denied bereavement pay. Department heads may also request evidence to verify the need for time off.
Employees can choose when they take bereavement leave, but the department head must approve the starting date.
How Amazon’s Bereavement Compares to the Rest of Big Tech
Amazon’s three-day paid bereavement leave allowance is seemingly inadequate and lacking in compassion. But unfortunately, the policy is standard in the US, as the majority of companies offer just one to three days of paid bereavement leave for immediate family.
Though Amazon is on par with most US companies, the company seriously lags behind the policies of other major names in the tech industry. Facebook, now Meta, set the gold standard for compassionate bereavement leave policies in 2017 with up to 20 days, and others began to follow suit.
Here’s a look at what other tech giants offer employees for bereavement leave:
- Apple: Employees get up to two weeks of bereavement leave in the event of the death of an immediate family member.
- Google: The search engine giant states on its careers site that it offers paid bereavement leave but doesn’t divulge how much. Further research says the bereavement leave policy covers stillbirths and miscarriages.
- Meta: The company behind Facebook offers up to 20 days paid time off upon the loss of an immediate family member and ten paid days for extended family.
- Microsoft: The company offers unlimited flexible discretionary time, and employees may take up to five days of paid time off if a spouse, same-sex domestic partner, child, or close relative dies.
Though it’s unclear exactly where Google stands, the other big three tech names offer longer and more flexible periods of bereavement leave than Amazon. The only FAANG company not included in this list is Netflix, as their bereavement leave policy is not publicly available.
A generous bereavement leave policy seems closer to the norm among tech companies than other industries. For instance, Adobe is particularly empathetic and offers up to 20 paid days off for bereavement at any time within a period of 180 days. And in 2021, Airbnb, Intel, and Lyft were awarded the title of Leave Innovator by the National Partnership for Women and Families as they offer at least two weeks of paid bereavement leave.
Is Amazon’s Bereavement Leave Policy Any Good?
There are some positive elements of Amazon’s bereavement leave policy.
The company extends its policy to the loss of anyone living in the employee’s home. You have to assume this considers the needs of non-traditional families, which may be excluded from other companies’ bereavement leave policies.
Similarly, the policy applies in the loss of foster, step, adopted parents, and similar guardians. Again, this ensures the policy is inclusive and accounts for individual circumstances.
However, I’d say that, overall, the policy is poor. Three days are not nearly enough time for a person to organize a funeral and family affairs, let alone take time to grieve.
Employees need time and space to recover mentally from a serious personal loss. When they return to work too early, they may suffer mental health issues and burnout, which will no doubt negatively impact their work performance, satisfaction levels, and home lives.
Furthermore, although Amazon has a defined bereavement leave policy on the surface, it appears to be at the discretion of management or department heads.
Those in charge must approve the dates of the bereavement leave. They can even ask for proof of death. Bereavement leave pay can also be withheld if supervisors feel they weren’t given enough notice of the employee’s time off.
When a loss is questioned, and the employee is afraid of lost wages or worries about whether the time will be approved before the funeral, it adds unnecessary stress to an already tumultuous time. It’s unethical and will undoubtedly impact employees’ feelings about working for the company.
What’s more, these practices mean there’s a chance Amazon employees won’t receive all of the benefits they’re entitled to. Amazon is a company with over 1.5 million employees. So many various supervisors and managers are making independent decisions about the leave that it calls the policy into question.
What Should Amazon Change About Their Bereavement Policy?
Amazon needs to improve several areas of its bereavement policy. There are not only items to be changed, such as extending the amount of time off an employee may take, but also items missing, such as guidance for employee support and their return to work.
Make Bereavement Leave Longer
As it stands, Amazon employees only receive three days of paid bereavement leave, and this isn’t sufficient time to take care of the deceased’s affairs or start the grieving process.
Amazon should offer a more generous policy of 10-20 days paid time off. If other tech giants like Microsoft and Meta can do it successfully, so can Amazon.
This time should be offered on a flexible basis, meaning employees can take those days in a block or increments as needed. Grief is not linear, and handling family affairs and funeral arrangements is unpredictable. For example, the funeral may be later than expected if a longer post-mortem is necessary.
Plus, the employee may have ups and downs. They may want to come to work initially to take their mind off things but find that grief hits them harder later. A flexible policy accounts for this. Adobe accounts for this by allowing bereavement days to be taken at any point within 180 days of the death.
The bereavement leave policy should also include options for employees to extend their time off in special circumstances after using their allotted time. For instance, perhaps they can use other paid time off options such as vacation days or take unpaid leave for additional time.
These extenuating circumstances depend on the individual’s needs. For example, when the employee is solely responsible for handling affairs or must travel out of state.
Though I don’t agree with offering unlimited paid time off in general, I acknowledge it has some benefits, as in the case of bereavement leave. Microsoft’s offer of flexible discretionary time off means that employees who need to extend their bereavement leave would seemingly be able to do so without repercussions.
Give Employees the Benefit of the Doubt
Amazon’s bereavement leave policy says leadership may ask for verification to support the request for time off. This implies they’ll ask for evidence from the employee, such as a death certificate.
Amazon should omit this from its existing policy. It’s unlikely an employee would abuse a company’s bereavement policy. We all know there are easier ways for employees to ditch work if they’re so inclined.
By asking for proof of the death, you only cast doubt on your employees’ integrity and foster an atmosphere of mistrust. You want to avoid this at all costs to create a happy and harmonious workplace for everybody.
Remove the Loopholes
It states in the bereavement leave policy that Amazon employees must inform their supervisors or management of the need for bereavement leave ahead of their shifts or up to thirty minutes into a shift at the very latest. If they fail to do so, the company is entitled to withhold bereavement pay.
While it may be required to incentivize employees to notify supervisors more efficiently, in practice, it seems to exist to allow the company to get out of paying for bereavement leave, which is just wrong.
Yes, Amazon should ask for a sufficient notice in instances of time off. But they don’t need to punish an employee already going through a hard time. Unfortunately, the result will be resentment among employees toward management.
Similarly, Amazon employees may choose the date their bereavement leave starts, but it’s still subject to the approval of management. There should be some addition to the policy here encouraging leadership to do their best to accommodate the employee’s dates.
Encourage Sympathy from Leadership
Amazon’s bereavement policy doesn’t go far enough to explain how supervisors, management, or heads of department should treat the employee in question.
The bereavement policy acts as a guideline for leadership. If Amazon wants to show that it’s an ethical and fair company that treats its staff well, it should make sympathetic treatment a rule, not just a presumption.
Other tech companies such as Facebook and Adobe are vocal about their compassionate position on bereavement leave. Unlike Amazon, Adobe is transparent about its bereavement leave policy, posting it on the company website for everyone to see.
They also do a great job of acknowledging the hardships involved in bereavement and their commitment to “ease the emotional, financial, and logistical burdens during the loss of an immediate family member.”
When Facebook announced its new bereavement leave policy in 2017, the COO at the time, Sheryl Sandberg, stated:
“[…] amid the nightmare of Dave’s death when my kids needed me more than ever, I was grateful every day to work for a company that provides bereavement leave and flexibility. I needed both to start my recovery. People should be able both to work and be there for their families. No one should face this trade-off. We need public policies that make it easier for people to care for their children and aging parents and for families to mourn and heal after loss.”
From her statement and the new policy, you can assume that this level of empathy is widely encouraged among leadership, advertised to employees, and written into company policy.
Include a Return to Work Policy
There’s no indication of what happens when an Amazon employee returns to work after bereavement leave. Steps must be taken to ensure grieving employees are supported at work. It’s often the case that employees need to be eased back into their regular work schedule.
This is better for employee mental health and general satisfaction, reducing the chance of needing to take time off work again due to emotional distress or burnout.
Empathy, compassion, and employee health should be of utmost importance and will lead to better employee retention rates, which is also good for the company.
Flexibility is key.
Therefore Amazon might offer a phased return to work or flexible hours to make the transition easier. In some instances, working from home or hybrid work may be appropriate.
The policy could also mention additional support leadership can provide, such as allowing time off for counseling appointments. It could also note that employees should contact HR, who will direct them to the right resources in case they need help with childcare, mental health support, and other relevant resources.
Make It Even More Inclusive
The inclusivity of Amazon’s bereavement policy is quite good, as it accounts for many forms of non-traditional families. But it could go further.
The policy should apply to pregnancy loss for both partners, and there should also be some allowance for non-immediate family members.
Meta, for example, offers ten days of paid bereavement leave for extended family. Amazon should include similar bereavement leave for close loved ones. A progressive policy would even include close friends.
Furthermore, Amazon’s current policy only applies to regular full and part-time employees. Including all types of employees, such as contractors, interns, and apprentices, would be even better.