Bereavement is a duration of hurt and grief experienced by an individual – typically over the loss of a very close relative. This is a situation that significantly impacts an employee’s ability to focus on work-life, and requires time for the employee to recover and re-adjust. It is important that during this time, employers dedicate greater attention to their employee’s well-being.
This article explores what bereavement leave is, including its expectations, and its benefits to the individual as well as to the company.
What is Bereavement Leave?
Bereavement leave is time given to employees to take time off work when a family member passes away. The time is mostly used towards planning and holding the funeral as well as to grieve and process the loss. However, many employees worry about job security when asking for time off during this painful time – thereby, creating a worse environment for themselves. One example is that of Mr Andrews who says that he was unproductive and almost useless after rushing back to work following the death of his son. That’s why it is important for there to be an established policy so that staff know what they are entitled to leave, do not have to rush back to work and do not feel unsafe. But at the same time, there is little regulation around bereavement leave – allowing a lot of flexibility in the policies that employers implement.
Business Considerations of Bereavement Leave
When an employee applies for bereavement leave, it will inevitably disrupt the business as there is one less person in your workforce. To counter this, steps should be taken to distribute that employee’s responsibility among other members of staff. If possible, the split should be put in writing and included within your bereavement policy. Another option is to give the employee freedom to work from home so that they can still contribute to the workforce – but be clear that it is up to them whether they do this or not.
Finally, when the employee returns from bereavement leave, schedule a meeting to assess whether they are fit to come back to work. This is even more important if you operate in a field that is high value or dangerous as lack of concentration can be fatal for the business and for the safety of other members of staff. If you feel that the employee is not ready to return to work, ask them to go back home and rest. If possible, implement a policy so that they can be paid during this time. Offering them a sabbatical leave to rest and recuperate is in the best interest of both the company and employee.
Eligibility for Bereavement Leave
Relationship to Deceased
Employees are usually given time off for the passing of immediate family – children, partners, parents, grandparents or spouses. It may be wise for any company to extend leave beyond this and offer leave for the passing of more distant family members. For example, aunts, uncles and even pets can be included in your policy, but you can reduce the number of days that an employee can take-off based on their relationship.
Proof of Death
While most employers do not require proof of death, you can opt to include it in your policy. The only issue to arise from this is that it can seem insensitive and intrusive. However, restricting proof to merely asking for details of the deceased will not be intrusive and the process will be quick. Further proof can take longer to acquire and may negatively impact the company’s image.
There is no steadfast rule on pay during bereavement leave and it is usually left to be decided by each employer through setting up a company policy. However, Governments have imposed further regulation in recent years – we will address this in a later section.
Currently, 94% of companies that have a bereavement leave policy offer their employees full pay, but this is not essential. Nevertheless, the trend seems to be heading towards having paid bereavement leave as the norm and it may come to be something that employees expect in every company of the future. However, employers can set up their policy so that employees can only take a max number of paid days off as bereavement leave per year. Alternatively, pay during bereavement leave can be reduced to a fraction of normal pay – increasing with each full year that the employee has worked for the company.
There is a similar trend here in that governments are regulating it more in recent years. In many countries, the average number of days given off can be between 2-5 days, but this figure is very flexible, and many employers offer a longer period. It may be beneficial for your company if you offer a flexible policy that considers an employee’s individual situation before deciding the length of their time off.
Some things that an employer should have consideration of are the:
- Employee’s relationship to the deceased person
- Employee’s travel and funeral arrangements
- Religious considerations and customs
Your policy will be unable to cover all possible situations, so it would be wise to merely use your bereavement policy as a guideline that managers can deviate from when appropriate to adapt to the employee’s circumstances.
Offering pay and longer bereavement leave appropriate to the employee’s circumstance would be much appreciated by employees who will then be more engaged and active at work. This will also help to attract new and better talent to your company as 78% of employees use the benefits package to judge job offers. It will also allow you to reduce your staff turnover and increase the retention rate as a study by Willis Watson Towers shows that 75% of employees are likely to stay on with an employer that offers a good benefits package.
Laws Around the World
|Country||Bereavement Leave Rules|
|United States||There is no regulation for paid bereavement leave in any state except for Oregon. It is left to be defined by company policy. On average, 3 days of bereavement leave is provided for the death of close family members. If employees want unpaid leave – the Family and Medical Leave Act allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
Oregon – employees that work at least 25 hours a week for at least 180 in a year are entitled to 2 weeks of paid bereavement leave. For further info, see the Oregon Family Leave Act.
|United Kingdom||Employees have a right to take a reasonable amount of time to deal with emergencies. There are no limits on time – this is left to employers to decide. There is no obligation on an employer to pay employees.
Any person has a right to time off if a dependent dies. A dependant includes:
Recently, Jack’s Law has been implemented to allow parents to take 2 weeks off if their child dies or if a baby is stillborn after 24 weeks. This is called parental bereavement leave.
Employers cannot treat an employee differently for taking time off, dismiss them, choose them for redundancy, or refuse them for reasonable time off.
|India||There is no legal entitlement to bereavement leave. Most companies offer 7 days of paid leave when an immediate family member dies. Immediate family members include parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses, children, and in-laws.|
|China||By law, employees are entitled to between 1 to 3 days off when a parent, spouse or child dies. In practice, most employees receive 3 days off and the policy extends to cover in-laws as well.|
|Brazil||By law, employees are entitled to paid bereavement leave for 2 consecutive days where there is a death in the immediate family. Immediate family includes spouses, children, parents and siblings.
In practice, the bereavement leave can extend up to 5 days and covers grandparents as well.
|Japan||By law, employers must grant kibiki kyuka (condolence leave) to full-time employees. For a spouse, child or parent, employees are granted up to 5 days. For grandparents, siblings or grandchildren, employees receive three days.|
|France||Employees are entitled to a leave of absence. The duration of the leave is dependent on the relationship with the deceased.
Employees receive 3 days for the death of a:
Employees receive 5 days for the death of a child.
Evidence such as a certificate of death has to be produced by the employee for the leave to be granted.
|Spain||As standard, 2 days of paid leave is granted but this can be extended up to 4 days or longer based on the employer’s policy and the employee’s circumstances. Only the first 2 days are likely to be paid.|
|Canada||Employees may take 5 days of bereavement leave in the case of the death of a member in their immediate family. The leave can be taken between the date of the death and 6 weeks after the date of a funeral or memorial service.
The employer can extend the period of the leave. An employee who has been employed by the employer for three consecutive months is entitled to be paid for the first 3 days of the leave.
For further information, visit the Canadian Government website.
|New Zealand||Employees who have worked for the employer for a period of 6 months are entitled to:
3 days for the death of a:
1 day for the death of another person and the employer agrees that there has been a bereavement. This is decided by looking at the closeness of their relationship, whether they have responsibility for arranging the funeral or other service or if they have any cultural responsibilities.
Follow this link for a video that explains the NZ law.
Examples of Companies’ Bereavement Policies
Quite a few well-known companies offer comprehensive bereavement leave to their staff. A few of these are outlined below so that you can draw some inspiration:
Since 2017, Facebook has offered employees 20 days of fully paid bereavement leave to mourn the death of immediate family members.
Employees can take up to three days of paid bereavement leave or up to five days if they have to travel. This applies to the death of a spouse, partner, child or close relative.
National Health Service (NHS UK)
Employees are entitled to one full working week of paid leave. This can be extended by another working week by the manager. This applies to the death of a partner, close family member or dependent.
Employees are given between 3 to 5 days of bereavement leave depending on the relationship to the family member and other circumstances.
Employees at Pfizer are allowed to take up to 7 consecutive calendar days off at the basic rate of pay if someone in the employee’s immediate family dies. If further leave is required, the employee must talk to their manager.
Employees are offered a flexible bereavement leave policy where each application is examined on its own merit and leave is granted on that basis, after consideration of relevant circumstances.
The troubled times we live in means that HR has had to look at more extensive leave offerings for employees. Employees are now being provided extended COVID sick leaves and bereavement leaves.
Employees will be entitled to bereavement leave if it is within the law of your country or if it is provided for in your company’s policy.
Bereavement Leave Policy Clause Examples
|1. Overview and Eligibility||1a. All full and part-time employees of ‘the company’ are entitled to bereavement leave subject to the following clauses in the bereavement leave policy and the entirety of the employee’s contract of employment.
1b. Employees who have been employed by ‘the company’ for a period no less than 6 years may take an additional 3 days of paid leave.
1c. We understand that this is a difficult time for everyone, so the HR team will be ready to support all employees throughout this process. ‘The company’ will endeavour to support your emotional and physical well-being during this time.
|2. Purpose||2a. Bereavement leave is offered so that the employee can handle funeral arrangements and grieve. We are committed to the emotional well-being of our team and if employees need any further assistance, the HR team should be contacted.|
|3. Length and Pay||3a. All employees may claim bereavement leave for a period of 5 days when a close family member has died.
3b. All employees may claim bereavement leave for a period of 2 days when another family member, a close friend or pet has died.
3c. All employees may apply to extend their bereavement leave for a period no longer than 21 days.
3d. The first two days of all bereavement leave will be paid. The rest will not be paid.
|4. Close Family Member||4a. For the purposes of the company’s bereavement leave policy, a close family member is limited to include only:
|5. Considerations||5a. Managers or representatives of ‘the company’ will take any personal circumstances of the employee into account when deciding the length of the leave. Additional days can be granted for cultural responsibilities, religious ceremonies, or travel.
5b. Employees may request bereavement leave for the passing of other individuals who were close to the employee.
5c. Managers and representatives of ‘the company’ will endeavour to analyse each application on its own merit and arrive at a fair conclusion.
5d. Employees who take bereavement leave may return to their post at the end of their approved period of leave. This is only applicable if the employee has applied for bereavement leave through the official channels. The official procedure is detailed in clause 6a.
5e. Where employees take bereavement leave, they can work from home and liaise with clients if they wish. However, there is no expectation that the employee will work during this time. The workload of the employee should be split evenly with other members of staff in the same department where possible.
|6. Process of Applying||6a. Employees wishing to take bereavement leave should complete the application form which can be obtained through the intranet or directly from your manager. It should be filled out and returned to your manager.
6b. Managers should only ask for the name of the deceased when confirming the leave. However, managers are entitled to (without having to provide a reason) ask for proof of death, such as a death certificate, if any suspicions arise.
|7. Complaints||7a. Any complaints and questions can be brought up directly to Human Resources. Details of your HR contact should be provided by your manager.|
Sample Form to Request Bereavement Leave
When applying for bereavement leave, employees are likely to be in a frantic state. HR needs to have a unified policy in place to apply for bereavement leave. A sample form to request bereavement leave is given below: