Q: What Is Bereavement Leave?

Everyone grieves differently, and each employee may have different expectations of what options they should have. To make sure you’re prepared and to set expectations for employees, it may be a good idea to create a bereavement leave policy for your business.  

Losing a loved one can be devastating, and it can make being at work a terrible experience. If you have an employee who recently lost a family member, they may want some time to grieve, attend the funeral, and spend time with other family members. But if you don’t have a bereavement leave or grievance pay policy in place, handling the request can be difficult.

What is bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave is time off an employee takes to grieve the loss of a loved one, typically an immediate family member but sometimes also a close relative. This can include time to make funeral arrangements and to attend the funeral.

In some situations, you may also hear it called a funeral leave.

bereavement leave definition

Are there bereavement leave laws?

There are no federal bereavement leave laws requiring employers to offer paid or unpaid time off, and only one state currently requires that employers offer bereavement leave.

Oregon requires that employers with 25 or more employees in Oregon in the current or previous year offer bereavement leave.

That leave is up to two weeks, and it must be taken within 60 days of when the employee learned of the death. Oregon doesn’t, however, require the leave to be paid. Employees qualify for bereavement leave if they have worked at least 180 calendar days and an average of 25 hours a week before taking the leave.

One other state has a more limited law. Illinois’ Child Bereavement Leave Act requires employers with at least 50 employees to provide up to 10 work days of unpaid leave upon the loss of a child.

Should I offer leave and bereavement pay if I’m not required?

If you’re not required by any state law to offer bereavement leave, then it’s up to you to decide whether to do so. And if you do, whether to provide bereavement pay along with the leave.

Most employers do.

According to a report by the Society for Human Resource Management, 88% of employers offer paid bereavement leave for their full-time employees. Of those employers, the average length of leave offered is one to four days, depending on the employee’s relationship with the deceased.

If you choose to adopt a bereavement leave policy, it’s important that you be clear to your employees about the policy. That way, there aren’t any surprises when someone wants to use it.

If you decide not to provide bereavement leave for your employees, however, you may want to let them know that they can still use other options such as PTO to take time off.

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Who is considered immediate family for bereavement leave?

Generally, any of the following could be considered immediate family:

  • Spouse
  • Parents
  • Stepparents
  • Children
  • Stepchildren
  • Grandparents
  • Grandchild
  • Father-in-law
  • Mother-in-law

That said, unless you’re governed by Oregon’s bereavement leave laws, you’re free to set your own definition of an immediate family, and you can even allow for other close relatives.  

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