What You Need to Know About Bereavement Leave

Learn the ins and outs of bereavement leave and what to ask your employer

When a loved one dies, you need time — to grieve and to begin the healing process. Yet, in the days following a passing, you spend most of your time on other matters. If you’re also working a full- or part-time job, your time is even more limited. That’s why it’s necessary to understand what, if any, bereavement leave your employer offers. This list of bereavement leave questions and answers will get you started.

What is bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave is any time off — paid or unpaid — an employee is given by his or her employer in the wake of a death. This type of leave is most often granted for the passing of someone in your immediate family but may also apply to the loss of other relatives, close friends, or coworkers. The purpose of bereavement leave is to allow time for grieving, to plan and attend the funeral, and to handle business or financial matters related to the deceased.

Complicated Grief: How to Cope with Death

Is bereavement leave guaranteed?

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act does not mandate employers to provide time off related to a death, even to attend a funeral. Instead, it leaves the option and details of bereavement leave to employers. The same is true from a state law standpoint, except in one state: Oregon, where companies with 25 or more employees must provide unpaid bereavement leave under the state’s Family Leave Act. Paid bereavement leave policies in Oregon are also optional.
 
Fortunately, most employers realize bereavement leave can help their employees grieve and regain focus on their jobs. A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 88% of companies offer paid bereavement leave for full-time employees. SHRM also reports that these employers offer an average of four paid days off for the loss of a spouse or child. For the passing of a parent, grandparent, or sibling, the average number of paid days off is three.

How do I work with my employer for bereavement leave?

Everyone will likely face the death of a loved one at some point, and it can often happen unexpectedly. For these reasons, you may find it helpful to understand how to ask for bereavement leave before the time comes. Your employer’s bereavement leave policy may vary from the average policy, so it’s important to read your employee handbook or check with your company’s human resources representative for details. Here are some key points to learn in the process:

Will I get paid for any bereavement leave I take?

If your employer allows days off for bereavement, you’ll want to know how many and whether those days will be paid or unpaid. If bereavement leave is unpaid or you need days off over what you’re allotted, are you able to use paid time off — vacation, sick, or personal days? Part-time employees will also want to find out if any paid time off they may receive will be prorated.

What is necessary to grant my bereavement leave?

You can follow simple guidelines on how to ask for bereavement leave from your employer for paid or unpaid time off. The first step is to inform your supervisor of your need for time off. Depending on your company’s policy, human resources and others may need to be notified, too.
 
You may also need to verify the death. To minimize abuse of company funeral leave, your employer may ask you to provide a death certificate, a copy of the obituary, or a program from the funeral service. However, you’ll more likely only need to share basic details, such as the deceased’s name, date and city of death, and your relationship to that person.

Who is generally considered immediate family?

Your employer will classify which family members qualify as immediate family in its bereavement leave policy. At a minimum, immediate family includes parents, siblings, spouse, and children. However, some companies may expand their definition to include grandparents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, and others.

How can I minimize the burdens for my loved ones in their bereavement periods?

Knowing how brief bereavement leave can be at many companies may have you wondering how you can ease the burden of loved ones in the days following your passing. In their time of sorrow, they will worry about many things, even funeral etiquette, such as what to say to people or what to wear. They may be unaware of how to plan a funeral or are short of funds to cover funeral expenses, especially if their bereavement leave is unpaid. Fortunately, you can take small actions that go a long way in helping them worry less and instead focus on their grief.

Preplan your funeral

You can easily preplan your funeral via a preplanning appointment with a funeral director, during which you share how you’d like to be remembered. Your loved ones can honor you in the ways you envisioned while alleviating any pressures or bereavement guilt they may experience.

Cover expenses

You can cover your funeral expenses before your passing. Many means are available to you, but people often choose Preneed Funeral insurance. This type of funeral insurance locks in the prices of any decisions made while ensuring funds are spent how you intended.

Find a preneed funeral home partner in your state

Another popular option is Final Expense Whole Life insurance, which not only covers funeral and burial costs but also can be used for medical bills, legal fees, or other expenses. Either one you choose, your loved ones can rest easier, helping them benefit from the intended purpose of bereavement leave.

Get a FREE Final Expense insurance quote

This article may contain links to third party websites, but Great Western Insurance Company is neither responsible nor liable for their content, accuracy, or security. Review our Terms and Conditions to learn more.

Photo credit: iStock


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Great Western Insurance Company created the My Careletter® program to help families cope with bereavement. It features 12 free, monthly newsletters about grief support that are sent following a loved one's funeral. Sign up to receive the newsletters in the mail.


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