Employment Law Tip: 5 Tips for Drafting Bereavement Leave Policies

It’s a sad situation that every employer must face at one time or another—the death of someone in an employee’s family. While there’s no law in California requiring private employers to provide bereavement leave in this situation, most employers do allow employees a few days off when an immediate family member dies, and sometimes the leave is paid.

If you’re a private-sector employer, you can set whatever bereavement leave policy you want, as long as the policy applies to all employees uniformly and is enforced consistently. And it’s a good idea to have your policy in writing, so the terms will be clear to an employee who needs time off in a hurry.

Our HR Management & Compliance Report: How To Comply with California and Federal Leave Laws, covers everything you need to know to stay in compliance with both state and federal law in one of the trickiest areas of compliance for even the most experienced HR professional. Learn the rules for pregnancy and parental leaves, medical exams and certifications, intermittent leaves, required notices, and more.

Here are five points to consider when drafting a bereavement policy:

  1. Define who qualifies as “immediate family.” Most policies define immediate family as an employee’s spouse, parent, stepparent, sibling, child, stepchild, grandparent, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, or grandchild. Some employers also permit bereavement leave for the death of an employee’s domestic partner.
  2. Specify whether the leave will be paid or unpaid.
  3. Specify the number of days that may be taken. Three days off is standard.
  4. Address whether any documentation of the need for leave will be required (such as a death certificate or obituary).
  5. Consider whether you will offer a one-day “funeral leave” to permit an employee to attend the funeral of a close non-family member.

For state employees, the rules are different. State employees are entitled to three days off with pay upon the death of a person related by blood, adoption, marriage, a registered domestic partner or registered domestic partner’s family member, or any person residing in the employee’s immediate household at the time of death. To take the leave, the employee must provide advance notice to his or her immediate supervisor and provide documentation substantiating the need for leave. If the death occurred outside the state, the employee may take up to two additional days of bereavement leave, which the employee can take unpaid or as a charge against accrued sick leave. If additional time off is needed, the employee can use accrued vacation, comp time or days without pay if authorized.