How Bereavement Leave Works and What to Expect

Updated February 11, 2022
Giving condolences to a coworker

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. This is called bereavement leave. Most companies are willing to provide at least a few days of bereavement leave for employees who lose a close family member. Some companies have an official policy, but employers that don't have one are usually willing to allow a grieving employee to take time off from work.

Typical Bereavement Leave Policies

It's natural to want to know how many days you'll be able to take off from work for a death in the family, but there isn't a simple answer to that question. There is no U.S. law that requires bereavement leave, so there isn't a standard in this situation. Companies vary greatly in the number of days offered for bereavement leave. Most provide three days away from work, which may be paid or unpaid.

Company Discretion

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 things like 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 effectively in the workplace, an understanding boss may decide to extend the days of the employee's bereavement leave.

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, contingent upon HR approval."

Filled with sorrow at their loss

How Does Bereavement Leave Work?

Check your company's employee handbook to see if your employer has a specific policy. If there's nothing listed as bereavement leave, that probably means your company doesn't have a formal policy. Reach out to your boss or HR representative once you know what, if anything, the handbook says, and explain your situation to see what options may be available to you.

  • Chances are the company will let you take at least a few days off from work to attend a family member's funeral, even if there isn't a specific policy.
  • Depending on your relationship to the person who died, the time your company allows for bereavement leave or as a courtesy to you if there isn't a policy may be sufficient.
  • If you've lost an immediate family member, such as your mother or father, sibling, spouse, or child, your employer may offer extended leave to help you cope with such a profound loss.
  • If you are responsible for planning funeral arrangements or if services will be out of town, you may be allowed to take a few additional days upon request.
  • If your employer doesn't offer bereavement pay, you may be required to take the days off without compensation, unless you have accrued vacation, personal, or sick time.
  • If you work for a large company, they may have a program that allows other employees to donate paid time off (PTO) to a co-worker who is facing a tragedy. Ask HR if such a program is available.
  • If you are fortunate enough to work for a company that offers unlimited PTO, you won't have to worry about unpaid leave as long as you reach an agreement with your supervisor on how much time you can take.

Which Family Members Qualify for Bereavement Leave

Bereavement leave is usually granted for the death of an immediate family member. If your company has a policy, it may specify exactly which relations are covered. Even if your situation doesn't fit cleanly into the policy, talk to your boss or HR representative so they will understand the nature of your relationship with the person you lost before making a final decision. Bereavement policies often cover:

  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Parent
  • Sibling
  • Child
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild

When an employee experiences a death in the family, most employers are willing to be flexible. Some may also allow bereavement leave for aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, stepparents, stepchildren, parents-in-law, siblings-in-law, or even friends.

Balancing Grief With Work Responsibilities

Taking time off work after the death of someone close to you is a good idea; not only for your own mental well-being but also for your ability to do your job. However, it's not possible to put a time frame on how long grief should last. When it comes to the workplace, you will need to work with your supervisor to determine an appropriate amount of time to 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.

Woman working from home

Navigating Beyond Bereavement Leave

You will need time, maybe days, weeks, or even months or years, to learn how to live life without that special someone there. 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. Hopefully, you have an employer who will be sympathetic during this difficult time, allowing you to take the time off that you need to mourn your loss.

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