Bereavement and Time Off Work

Grieving man at work

If you were recently thrown into the pit of bereavement and you have the option to take time off work, then take it. Use as much time as you can to heal and learn to live without that special loved one in your life.

About Bereavement Leave

When a close family member has passed away, either suddenly or from a long illness, you can ask your employer for a few days off work to attend the funeral. If it is out of town, you may be allowed to take a few additional days. This is called bereavement leave. This time away from work can be paid or unpaid, depending on your workplace's policy. If a specific protocol is not in place, you may be required to use your accrued vacation, personal, or sick time. You may have to take the days off without pay and risk the consequences that may come along with doing that, such as loss of hours or pay, demotion, or possible termination.

Bereavement leave is usually granted for death of a family member, including:

  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Parent
  • Stepparent
  • Sibling
  • Child
  • Stepchild
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Father- or mother-in-law
  • Sister- or brother-in-law

Depending on the company for which you work, your employer may allow you take extra time off for a death in the family if you've lost an immediate family member such as your mother or father, sibling, spouse, or child. Losing someone that close to you will require additional time to cope with the death.

Understanding Bereavement

Grieving woman mourning at funeral

Taking time off work after the death of someone close to you is good not only for your own mental well-being but also for your job. You need time , days, weeks and sometimes months, to learn how to live a new "normal" life without that special someone there. There is also the physical aspect of dealing with the death of a family member. Depending on your relationship to him or her, there are some important duties that need to be done.

Emotionally, you will go through a very rough time. Even though you may find work as an escape from reality, it is still not the best place to be immediately after losing your loved one. You may find yourself feeling lost or unable to make decisions on your own. Many employers are sympathetic to your needs at this time, but some aren't, so it's best to take this time to yourself. Unknowingly, you may also:

  • Cry uncontrollably
  • Refrain from eating or sleeping
  • Be unable to keep up with household duties
  • Become angry or impatient
  • Have trouble concentrating on work or other day-to-day responsibilities

However, your relationship to the person who died determines how long you may be away from work. An immediate family member such as a father-in-law or sister-in-law may not cause you to miss more than just a few days of work. On the other hand, losing your spouse or child can cause an extraordinary amount of grief, causing you to lose more time.

Losing a Spouse or Domestic Partner

Losing the love of your life can be one of the hardest of losses to endure. You lost your past, present, and future with him or her. If you have small children together, you have painstaking task of dealing with their loss as well. Taking additional time off work allows you to handle:

  • Life insurance, legal, and financial issues
  • Cleaning out your spouse's desk or locker at his or her place of employment
  • The care of funeral and/or medical bills
  • Sorting through his or her personal belongings at home
  • Writing thank you notes to funeral attendees

When a Parent Dies

The death of one's parents is an inevitable occurrence that many children will face in their lifetimes. Elderly parents usually name one of their adult children as executors to their wills, which means they are responsible for handling all the funeral arrangements and the reading of the wills afterward. Besides grieving for their parents, children must also take care of the following, which can require an extended leave of absence from work:

  • Handling all legal and financial issues including Social Security and Medicare
  • If needed, cleaning out and selling a parent's house, which means sorting through personal belongings
  • Sending thank you notes to those who attended the funeral

Death of a Child

Grieving woman holding teddy bear

It is said that losing a child is the hardest of all deaths because children shouldn't die before their parents. However, when this happens, most parents -- mainly mothers -- will take an extended bereavement leave from work. If the child passes away at birth, the mother usually has the typical six weeks maternity leave she can take off besides bereavement leave. Your company's human resources department will have more information about maternity leave and whether fathers are entitled to this time as well. Physically, there is not much legally to do after a child dies. After the funeral is over, there are bills to pay and thank you notes to write, but the majority of bereavement and time off work is for the parents to grieve. This could take a long time. Most fathers go back to work within a few weeks, while mothers may sometimes need to take more time. It is best not to rush this process. Other things to do during bereavement leave include:

  • If applicable, cleaning out your child's desk or locker at school
  • Sorting through the child's bedroom and other personal items
  • Contacting extended family and friends

Typical Bereavement Leave Policies

Many people want to know how many days off do you get for a death in the family. Although companies can vary greatly in the number of days offered for bereavement leave, the most common number of days is three for full-time employees. Paid time off for bereavement isn't government-mandated, although the time leading up to the death may fall within FMLA, granting unpaid time off without threat of job loss.

Company Discretion

man needing bereavement leave

While most companies have a bereavement policy in place, often the boss is granted some leeway in the number of days allowed beyond the days given through the policy. Bosses consider the employee's relationship to the deceased, the employee's emotional reaction, and the unexpectedness of the death. Essentially, bosses typically take into consideration the employee's ability to function at work; if the employee is too deeply in grief to function at work, an understanding boss may extend the days of the bereavement leave in that instance.

Sample Policy

A company's bereavement policy might read like this: "An employee experiencing the loss of an immediate family member will be granted three paid days of bereavement leave. Employees eligible for this leave include full-time employees beyond their probationary period. Two days of paid bereavement leave are granted to full-time employees who experience the loss of extended family. Vacation time can be utilized by employees who need additional time beyond the bereavement leave period allowed contingent upon HR approval."

Time Off Work for a Death in the Family

You cannot put a time frame on how long someone grieves; however, when it comes to the workplace, you will need to set a limit as to how much time you take off. When you do go back to work, take your time and ease back into your workload. Expect to have good and bad days and make sure you have a place to go or a person to talk to if needed. There will be times when being back at work overwhelms you. Like your life at home, you will need to find a new normal and a new way to do things.

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