Bereavement Leave for Employees

Health and mental wellbeing are at the forefront of social discussion. From the selfcare movement to increased awareness around mental health, organizations are recognizing the importance of wellness of their employees. Policies like flex days and comprehensive medical coverage are ways that employers support the health of their teams. However, changing times calls for revamping policies to meet new needs. As a larger percentage of the population enter into retirement years, more employees will be experiencing death or loss. Some employees may even be experiencing this for the first time. As a result, organizations should adopt bereavement leave policies to help their employees as they process grief.

What is bereavement leave

Bereavement leave is a leave of absence that an employee takes when someone in their immediate family has passed away. This is to provide the bereaved employee time to process grief and deal with the tasks associated with the death (e.g. funeral, wakes, financial decisions).

Depending on the state of which the organization operates in and the organization’s policies, who qualifies as an immediate family member and the time allotted off can differ.

The impact of death on an employee

The death of loved one takes physical and mental toll on an individual. As a bereaved individual grieves, there are visible symptoms that occur. According to an article from Psychology Today, the common symptoms include changes in appetite, trouble sleeping, crying spells, and lack of productivity in one’s work. This becomes an incredibly sensitive time for a bereaved individual, as they work through processing a flood of emotions. And because of this, it is more reason that organizations should offer bereavement leave, even when the state does not require it.

Who qualifies to take bereavement leave

Qualification for those who can take bereavement leave depend on two factors. First, it is dependent on how the organization chooses to interpret the term immediate family member. Second, the country and or state that the organization operates in may impact which employees qualify for bereavement leave.

Immediate family members typically refer to spouses or romantic partners, children, and or parents. However, it is important to recognize that who is part of an individual’s immediate family may differ. For some individuals, grandparents may be an integral parent role in their lives. Their passing may trigger strong feelings of grief. Similarly, a friend may also be seen as immediate family, especially if they are very close. In these situations, it is important for employers to exercise compassion when deciding who they deem as immediate family.

In the United States, bereavement leave is governed at the state level. This means that the rules that dictate whether an employee qualifies will differ state to state. Depending on the state, legislation can require that the individual have been employed by the organization for a minimum amount of months and or work a minimum number of hours to qualify.

How long can an employee take off

Because bereavement leave is governed at the state level, this will differ for each employee. The only state that has legislatively mandated bereavement leave is Oregon and Illinois. In Oregon, eligible employees can take up to two weeks of paid leave for each immediate family member who passes. An eligible employee is someone who works at least 25 hours per week and has been with the company for a minimum of 180 days. Additionally, the employer must employ more than 25 employees.

In Illinois, companies with 50+ employees must provide employees up to 10 days of unpaid leave following the death of a child. State of Maine also has requirements for leave in the death of an active duty member.

While there is no federal legislation specifically for bereavement leave, there is the Family and Medical Leave Act. This act allows for qualified employees to take time off to care for sick family members.

How leaders should manage bereavement leave

For organizations that do not have policies around bereavement leave, leaders should seriously consider the impact of death on the wellbeing and productivity of an employee for. First, employees who are grieving are going through a tremendously sensitive time. Consequently, this will impact their productivity. Not providing employees with time to process will ultimately impact the business.

Second, providing time off is simply the compassionate thing to do. Asking an employee to finish a deliverable amidst their grieving a loved one is cruel. By providing and encouraging employees to take the time off, it signals to team members that the organization cares about their wellbeing.

And finally, individuals who have experienced loss often choose to leave their jobs in order to grieve. This may mean losing a high-performer or a key team member, which can have a long impact on the organization.

In the recent years, leaders have started opening up about the process of grief and the impact it has on them. For example, in one of the most public accounts, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg opens up about the sudden loss of her husband. Pulling together her experience in her book, Option B, Sandberg brings an honest lens to what people really need while grieving. As a result, her honesty has opened the doors for discussions on what it means to lose someone important and continue at work.

Key takeaways

  • In the United States, there is no federal legislation that oversees bereavement leave; instead the legal requirements around bereavement leave are mandated at the state level.
  • Oregon is the only state that provides paid bereavement leave.
  • Organizations without bereavement policies should consider creating one; this supports employees’ wellbeing as they navigate through their toughest moments.

Related readings

Professional Leadership Institute (PLI) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical education in human resources and leadership. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional PLI resources below will be useful:


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