HR Management & Compliance

Delicately Handling Bereavement Leave

When an employee is dealing with a death in the family or of someone else in his or her personal life, it can be an especially difficult time. The last thing the employee might want to deal with is hassles at work over the need to take time off. It’s an opportunity for an employer to be sensitive to employee needs.

However, this can be easier said than done, given that each employee’s needs may be different, and emotions may be running high. Here are some tips to help the process go as smoothly as possible:

  • Communicate the bereavement leave policy to all employees in advance. While employees likely won’t remember the details when faced with having to take bereavement leave, it also shouldn’t be a complete surprise. This should help to minimize misunderstandings when an employee needs to request bereavement leave.
  • Train the HR team and other managers on how this type of leave is to be implemented. For example, will you allow any direct supervisor to approve the leave, or will this be processed only by HR? Who will approve requests to extend bereavement leave? Who must be consulted before such a request is approved?
  • Train managers on how to sensitively deal with bereavement leave issues. Regardless of the rules and policy in place, how the company handles this situation can deeply affect its relationship with the employee. This is a prime example of the type of situation in which flexibility will be beneficial. An employee in this situation will likely be distracted and upset and may understandably not remember the procedures that are normally followed to request leave. If you become aware that an employee is dealing with a loss, and the employee has not reached out, consider reaching out to express sympathy.
  • Understand that differing circumstances for employees may necessitate differing amounts of time off for bereavement. Consider building flexibility into your bereavement leave policy to accommodate this fact. For example, you could provide X amount of paid days off and a possibility for up to X more unpaid days off upon approval or if certain conditions are met, such as seniority level. This would give leeway to allow extra time when circumstances warrant it and still be fair to everyone.
  • Train managers how to communicate about an employee’s absence to the rest of the team.
  • Consider sending a card, gift, or flowers as an expression of sympathy, either on behalf of the organization or the team.
  • Many of the employee’s coworkers may have known the deceased; those who did may wish to attend services, so plan accordingly. Also consider whether a supervisor or other company representative should attend, even if that individual did not know the deceased.
  • When an employee on bereavement leave is gone for an extended period, be sure to maintain contact. This will help in their transition back and will also help you to be aware if there will be delays in the employee’s return to work.

Tomorrow we will go over more tips about bereavement leave policies.