Grief touches all of us at some point. Creating a compassionate bereavement leave policy is essential. After all, folks need time to recover to perform their jobs well.
In my experience, there’s nothing more important than keeping employees happy. Not only is it the right thing to do, but people who feel valued are better workers.
They’re more engaged, better team players, less likely to be absent, and more likely to stay committed to the company. And if you’re one of those cold souls who only see dollar signs, you should also know that happy employees are 12% more productive.
Thus, it’s crucial you offer an empathetic, considerate bereavement policy. You want to provide more than the bare minimum, be flexible, and consider individual needs.
What Is Bereavement Leave?
Bereavement leave is a policy where an employee receives paid or unpaid time off when a family member dies to grieve, make arrangements, and/or attend a funeral. The length of bereavement leave and whether it is paid varies from company to company.
There’s no federal law that dictates a company must provide bereavement leave. There are currently only three states, Oregon, California, and Illinois, where bereavement leave is a legal requirement.
The HR department creates a bereavement leave policy for an organization. It outlines general company policies around bereavement leave but often has enough wiggle room to consider individual circumstances and needs.
The Horrible State of Bereavement Leave
The bereavement leave policies of most US companies are dire. 68% of companies offer just one to three days of paid bereavement leave after the loss of an immediate family member.
Only 45% of companies offer the same for non-immediate family members. Just 20% give one to three days off when an employee loses a close friend.
Consider all the responsibilities a person has when a close loved one dies. They must obtain a death certificate, alert family, friends, and colleagues, close down bank accounts, talk to insurance companies, organize a funeral, and so much more. And that doesn’t even consider the time to grieve and look for support.
Three days aren’t nearly enough time to handle these affairs, let alone grieve. According to the American Psychological Association, grieving is a necessary process to overcome emotional turmoil, and it could take months or even a year to process a loss.
I am not saying you should give your employees a year of bereavement time. That just gives context to what a compassionate leave policy needs to consider. We need to be empathetic and treat our employees well.
When companies demand employees return to work before they’ve had a chance to start the grieving process, it can cause mental health issues. This is simply unethical and may cause the employee distress and significantly reduce productivity.
In Illinois, companies are legally required to provide up to ten working days of unpaid bereavement leave. The state of Oregon requires companies with over 25 employees to offer unpaid bereavement leave for up to two weeks. In California, employers with more than five workers must provide up to five days of unpaid bereavement leave.
But the sad fact is that most states don’t require companies to offer any form of bereavement leave.
Without a set of clear regulations, bereavement leave policies are left to companies’ discretion. The businesses determine whether a loss is significant enough to warrant bereavement leave and how much, or more likely, how little, leave an employee is entitled to.
They can even use terminology in their policies to get around offering employees any bereavement leave at all. They can interpret terms such as “immediate family” however they wish.
This is bound to severely impact those with non-traditional families and people in long-term partnerships who aren’t married. That is why is good policy spells out all details and definitions.
Overall, bereavement leave policies are unregulated, unsympathetic, and lack transparency. As company leaders and HR professionals, we need to do better.
Industry-Leading Bereavement Leave Policies
In recent years, several high-profile companies have set a better standard for what a bereavement leave policy should look like. You may wish to model your company’s bereavement policy on businesses like Adobe and Facebook, now Meta.
Let’s look at what these two companies offer their staff when a loved one passes away.
All staff, including interns and temps, may take up to 20 paid days off for bereavement. Employees can take bereavement leave starting day one of working for the company.
This is in stark contrast to companies that offer a mere one to three days of unpaid leave. Or those that limit bereavement leave to long-time employees–bereavement can affect anyone at any time.
The policy includes the employee’s or a partner’s parents, siblings, children, grandparents, grandchildren, pregnancy loss, and other family members as defined in local laws on bereavement policies.
This is positive as the policy is inclusive and clearly defines to whom it applies. There are no gray areas, making it more likely every member of staff will receive the benefits to which they’re entitled.
At Adobe, this time can be taken in one continuous period or in any increment until 180 days after the date of the death. Employees receive the time and space they need to manage their loved one’s affairs.
For non-immediate family members, Adobe encourages employees to utilize other forms of time off. Although Adobe doesn’t have a clear policy for, say, the loss of a close friend, it seems the HR department is open to working with employees to figure out a path forward so they can receive the time they need to grieve.
Facebook, now Meta, was one of the first in a line of prominent companies to extend bereavement leave for its employees. Staff at Meta can take up to 20 days of paid time off after the loss of an immediate family member and 10 days of paid time off for extended family. This is part of the company’s wide range of wellness, medical, and family-related policies.
Sheryl Sandberg, former COO, announced the new policy in 2017 via a Facebook post. She emphasized the need for change in public policy to give families a chance to heal. It came after she suffered from the loss of her husband in 2015.
Sandberg also highlighted the benefits of a good bereavement policy, saying:
“Companies that stand by the people who work for them do the right thing and the smart thing – it helps them serve their mission, live their values, and improve their bottom line by increasing the loyalty and performance of their workforce.”
This pioneering move inspired other companies, such as Mastercard, Bank of America, and Airbnb, to follow suit.
What to Include in Your Bereavement Leave Policy
Create your bereavement leave policy with great care and consideration. It significantly impacts employee satisfaction and how they view their work-life balance.
Create an official document outlining your bereavement leave policy to ensure everyone is treated equally. Here, I will discuss some key points you should include in your official bereavement leave policy.
1. Establish the Background and Purpose of the Bereavement Leave Policy
Introduce the policy by establishing why it exists. Summarize how it will benefit employees and the company at large.
For instance, you might talk about how the company sympathizes with its employees and understands the need for time off to recover from a loss. State that the document is to act as an official guideline for management on behalf of the company.
2. Define the Terms Included in the Policy
Where many bereavement policies fall short is a lack of transparency. When there are gray areas, management may make mistakes in approving and organizing bereavement leave for employees.
Make the policy as transparent as possible by defining any terms that may be interpreted in different ways. It’s particularly important to list precisely who “immediate family” and similar terms refer to. For example, immediate family might include parents, children, grandparents, parents-in-law, sons/daughters-in-law, and siblings.
3. Establish the Scope of the Policy
Detail precisely to whom the policy applies. Include the appropriate employee categories, such as full-time, part-time, contractor, and intern, along with a description of who falls into these groups. It should also spell out exactly what benefits each category of employee receives.
Add any particular criteria those employees must meet to be entitled to the bereavement policy. Though it’s best to offer bereavement leave to every type of employee from day one of their employment, some companies require, for example, employees to have been with the company for a particular length of time before receiving certain benefits.
4. Outline Your Bereavement Leave Policy
Having clarified the finer details, you can now state exactly what employees are entitled to. Include all terms and rules for immediate and non-immediate family members.
State the number of days an employee may take off after a death and any constraints on when the employee must take those days. We recommend a minimum of ten days and a longer period of time in which employees may choose to take those days.
Add whether bereavement leave will be paid or not. Mention whether any extensions are available and in what circumstances. Reasonable allowances should be made for special circumstances.
For example, more time may be required when the close family member lived out of state. Or perhaps the employee doesn’t have a support network of other family members to help take care of logistical and financial affairs.
Don’t forget to discuss any important information surrounding employee benefits. For instance, if the employees can take an extension but they must use their accrued paid days off or take it unpaid.
5. Include Any Requirements or Responsibilities for Management and Employees
This section covers the necessary etiquette or procedures staff must follow. It ensures the entire process runs smoothly, as those grieving loved ones don’t need any added stress.
It should cover how and when an employee must inform management of a death. Mention any documents an employee must submit, such as a copy of the death certificate once they acquire it. Also cover how managers are to assess, approve, and report on bereavement leave for employees.
What We Offer for Bereavement
At Stone Press, we offer a generous bereavement leave policy to staff who work across our portfolio of websites. Those who suffer a loss may take up to ten days off at any time within three months. The days do not need to be taken consecutively.
This kind of flexibility matters. We understand that there’s no set date or pattern to how grief works, when a funeral will be held, or how and when employees will get their loved one’s affairs in order.
We believe personal circumstances should be taken into account. So this policy applies to the loss of any close loved one in addition to immediate family because not all families look the same. It also applies to both partners in the tragic event of a miscarriage.
We’d encourage you to make your bereavement leave policy as compassionate and inclusive as possible to support your valued employees.
Tips for Supporting Grieving Employees
Companies that go above what’s necessary for their employees see positive results. It’s important that existing staff, potential applicants, and customers have a positive perception of the company. Show everyone you have strong values and offer a great place to work.
Aside from offering a compassionate bereavement leave policy, here’s what you can do to continue to support employees after a significant loss:
- Offer counseling and resources for wellness – The company may already offer certain resources as part of its medical and benefits programs. Make sure the employees are aware of what’s available to them, such as psychotherapy, access to support groups, etc.
- Review your company’s bereavement policy regularly – Survey employees to determine whether company policies and support go far enough. Gather feedback and make policy improvements regularly to show employees you listen to them and keep them satisfied.
- Rally staff to help support the grieving employee – Approach this tactfully, as some employees may not wish for others to know about their loss. In some cases, you’ll be able to ask employees and teams to give emotional support, avoid burdening the employee with tasks or work calls while they’re taking bereavement leave, and generally be understanding of a person’s situation and knowing that work isn’t their highest priority in these times.
- Offer flexible working options after they’ve taken bereavement leave – Where appropriate, offer the option of hybrid working, work from home, or flexitime. This will undoubtedly relieve stress and give the employee the extra space and time they need to start the recovery process and handle their affairs before returning to the workforce.