HR Management & Compliance

Bereavement Leave Considerations

Employers are in a delicate situation when an employee needs to take bereavement leave—not only must they deal very sensitively with the employee who has suffered a loss, but they also must be sure to handle the situation in a way that is both fair (to all employees) and flexible (since each situation may be slightly different).

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There are a lot of considerations when crafting a formal (or even informal) bereavement leave policy. This list is meant as a “thought starter” for employers to use when thinking through their own policies and how they can be most effective during such difficult circumstances.

Bereavement leave considerations:

  • Employers must be aware that regardless of how much time off a person takes, the grieving process will likely spill over into the work environment. This is normal and expected, and the employer must be able to deal with it compassionately. In practical terms, this may mean any number of things, such as:
    • Training supervisors on how to interact with grieving employees;
    • Offering counseling services, such as an employee assistance program (EAP);
    • Temporarily relaxing some job requirements; and/or
    • Giving a bit of leeway on other related items.
  • Any formal bereavement leave policy should be communicated in advance for employees. That said, in the moment that the policy must be utilized, don’t expect employees to remember the details of it; be aware they may not follow the exact requirements and are likely not intentionally breaking the rules.
  • Consider how much flexibility can be built into your bereavement leave policy. Some employees may want to jump right back into work after experiencing a loss—it may be a way to bring back a semblance of normalcy. Others may need more time away to work through their feelings before being capable of handling their job duties again. If there’s some level of flexibility in your policy, this can help you to treat employees fairly even if their exact leave details differ.
  • Other employees will likely also be affected, either directly or indirectly. Even if the formal bereavement policy does not outline this aspect, managers and supervisors must be aware of it. For example,
    • When an employee must be away on bereavement leave, that likely means other employees will have to pick up the slack at work—often with little to no notice. This must be managed with care.
    • It is also possible that other employees will want to take time off to attend services, either because they also knew the deceased or in support of their colleague.
    • Yet another area where other employees come into play is the issue of privacy—you must be able to communicate about the affected employee’s absence in a respectful way.
  • Be aware—and consider training supervisors—that even after an employee is comfortable returning to work, he or she will likely have reduced concentration levels, which can lead to a greater risk of accidents or a reduction in productivity. The employee may not be as adept in decision making.
  • Consider whether it makes sense to offer reduced or changed responsibilities for a temporary period following such an absence. This can take the pressure off and allow the employee to remain productive in a different capacity.
  • Note that some states actually mandate bereavement leave, though it is not yet mandated at the federal level. Check your state and local laws to see your statutory requirements.

Does your organization have a formal bereavement leave policy? What issues have you faced when employees are in this situation?