What is Bereavement Leave? (Definitions & FAQs)

Andrew Buck's avatar Andrew Buck May 14, 2024

Bereavement leave is a chance to reach out and show compassion to your team members during some of the most difficult times in their lives. Yet unfortunately, most companies don’t offer enough of it.

There are some times when you need to acknowledge that your employees are human beings, and have things in their life that are more important than work. This is one of them, and a generous bereavement leave policy can make all the difference for that person during this time.

Read on to learn all you need to know about bereavement leave, how it works, and what your obligations are as an employer.

Key Takeaways:

  • Bereavement leave is when an employee takes time off work following the death of a close relative or loved one.
  • It can be paid or unpaid, and its length usually lasts from 1 to 3 days.
  • To track bereavement leave and communicate your bereavement leave policy effectively, use a leave management tool like Flamingo.

What is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave is time off for the death of someone’s close family member or loved one.

It allows the person time off to grieve, as well as to make funeral arrangements and attend the funeral.

In the US, there is no federal law requiring companies to provide bereavement leave. In locations where bereavement leave is required, most details about how bereavement leave works are typically left up to the company to decide.

That said, we’ll answer some of the most commonly asked questions about bereavement leave below.

Who Does Bereavement Leave Apply To?

Bereavement leave typically applies for the death of an immediate family member, such as the employee’s spouse, parent, sibling or child. This may include several other relations, as we’ll explain below.

In many cases, bereavement leave applies to a wide range of relations, but the closer the relationship, the longer the length of bereavement leave.

What is an Immediate Family Member?

So who is considered immediate family for bereavement leave?

Different regulations will classify this in their own way. For example, the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regards immediate family members as:

Members of the employee’s extended family (e.g. aunts, uncles, cousins) are less commonly included in bereavement leave policies.

However, more companies these days are choosing to be flexible with the relationships covered by bereavement leave, as the closeness of blood ties is not always indicative of the emotional impact to the employee.

How Long is Bereavement Leave?

There is no set length for bereavement leave. The typical length is between 3-5 days for the death of an immediate family member, and 1 day for other family members who don’t meet this criteria.

In locations where bereavement leave is required by law, the amount of time can vary, and in some cases, no specific length is stipulated.

Is Bereavement Leave Paid?

Bereavement leave may be paid or unpaid time off.

In some locations, bereavement leave is required to be paid. In others, it’s left up to the employer to decide.

Some laws require paid leave for close family members only, and relationships outside of those covered by paid bereavement leave are eligible for unpaid leave only.

When Can Bereavement Leave Be Taken?

There’s typically no restrictions around when exactly the employee can take bereavement leave.

It’s most commonly used right after the death occurs (or the employee learns of the death), and to allow the employee to attend the relative’s funeral or to attend memorial services.

Bereavement Leave in the US

Though there is no federal bereavement leave law in the US, and most states don’t legally require businesses to offer bereavement leave either, it is still standard in most companies.

NFP and Helios HR’s Leave Management Survey found that 90% of companies surveyed offered paid bereavement leave.

The survey also found that:

Some companies are more generous than the average.

In addition, several states have their own bereavement leave laws.

Illinois Bereavement Leave

The Illinois Family Bereavement Leave Act (FBLA) provides up to 10 workdays of unpaid bereavement leave for eligible employees following the death of their child, stepchild, spouse, domestic partner, sibling, parent, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandchild, grandparent, or stepparent.

California Bereavement Leave

In California, workers in companies with more than five employees are entitled to up to five days of unpaid bereavement leave for the death of their spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, domestic
partner, or parent-in-law.

Oregon Bereavement Leave

The Oregon Family Leave Act entitled workers in companies with more than 25 employees to up to two weeks of unpaid leave for the death of a family member.

Washington Bereavement Leave

In Washington, employees are entitled to three days of paid bereavement leave for the death of a covered family member or household member, as well as unpaid leave or their earned paid leave on top of the initial bereavement leave allowance.

Maryland Bereavement Leave

In Maryland, though there is no requirement to provide bereavement leave as a separate leave type, workers must be allowed to take their earned paid leave (including sick leave) upon the death of an immediate family member (a parent, child or spouse).

Bereavement Leave Around the World

In general, legally mandated bereavement leave is more common around the world (particularly in Europe and Oceania) than it is in the US.

Countries with bereavement leave laws include:

(Learn more about each country’s bereavement leave laws on our Leave Laws Hub).

What To Put In Your Bereavement Leave Policy

If you offer bereavement leave in your company (as we advise you do), you’ll need a policy guiding how bereavement leave works (or at least a section in your overall employee leave policy or employee handbook).

In this policy, you should include:

What’s most important that your bereavement leave policy is transparent and easy for everyone to understand, to avoid confusion – especially during this difficult period for the employee.

Final Thoughts: Why Bereavement Leave is an Essential Part of Your Leave Policy

People who are happy and content in their job generally perform better, while people who are occupied with matters outside of work are more likely to make mistakes.

Imagine someone is dealing with the loss of a family member. They’re not going to be in the right state of mind to do their job to the best of their ability.

More importantly, having to deal with work at the same time as they’re trying to grieve and process their loss puts a toll on the employee’s long-term mental health.

Loss is normal. So is grieving. You need to give you employees the time they need to process their loss, without piling more stress on top of an already stressful time.

A generous bereavement leave policy is a powerful gesture to your employee to help them during this time. Consider how your company can lead the way in this respect.

Andrew Buck's avatar

Andrew Buck

Andrew is the content manager at Flamingo. He has managed teams in multiple industries, for both physical and remote businesses, and has experience dealing with the ins and outs of HR and leave management on a daily basis.

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