How to Ask for Bereavement Leave

Tamsen Butler
Colleagues talking in office

It's likely your employer has a policy in place already for allowing bereavement leave, especially if you work for a larger company. When the time comes to ask for some time off attend a funeral or to grieve, the HR representative should be your first stop.

Bereavement Policy

If your company has a bereavement policy in place, this will dictate how many days of leave you are allowed, if you will be paid during that time, and what constitutes "bereavement leave." For example, a company may state they grant three paid days off for the death of an immediate family member (parent, spouse, sibling, etc.) but not make the same accommodations for the death of a cousin or close friend. Note that there is no federal law in place requiring paid bereavement leave.

Requesting Time Off

Consider the bereavement policy as a starting point; most companies allow the boss to allow for more leave at their discretion. Know what your company's bereavement policy is when you request the time off; your employer's organizational structure will dictate who you make the request to, so make sure you go through the proper channels and don't get promises from someone who isn't authorized to approve your leave.

Provide Required Details

Though it may feel callous, some employers require documentation to support your claim of needing bereavement leave. Supply whatever they need to ensure your request is approved.

Get Specifics

You may be so relieved to get time off that you don't press for details - this is a mistake. Consider a boss saying something vague like, "Take all the time you need," but what the boss actually means is, "Take the three paid days off but anything after that will be unpaid." If you don't understand the specifics of your leave you might mistakenly assume you can take a couple weeks to grieve and still receive pay. Ask specific questions so you can fully understand what your bereavement leave entails as far as pay goes.

  • Is my leave paid? If so, for how long?
  • Does my paid leave subtract from my paid vacation days or PTO?
  • What forms do I need to fill out to ensure my bereavement leave is paid?

Request a signed copy of the bereavement leave documentation to ensure you don't have problems upon your return.

Employers Without a Bereavement Leave Policy

If you work for a small business it's likely there is no bereavement policy in place; you may not even have an HR representative to approach. In this case, approach your immediate supervisor to ask about taking time off. The way you word your request can help dictate the direction the response takes:

  • Good: "My mom passed away last night so I need to know how much bereavement leave I can take for the funeral and to get her affairs in order." This specifies that you're asking for bereavement leave instead of simply time off. It also reveals that your time off is for a specific purpose.
  • Bad: "My mom passed away last night, so I can I take some time off?" This doesn't specify that you expect bereavement leave as opposed to using vacation or PTO days. It's important to be specific since some supervisors may not even realize that some employers provide paid time off for these situations.

Independent Contractor or Part-Time Worker

If you're an independent contractor or only work part-time, it's possible your employer will not have offered paid time off for bereavement. Don't be too apprehensive to ask, though; the death of a loved one makes it nearly impossible to be productive at work, and even the most callous of bosses know this. Ask for the leave, even if you don't expect to get approved.

Explore Alternatives

If there is no available paid time off available after the death of a loved one, you still need time to grieve. Consider using your vacation, PTO, sick days, or whatever is available to you. Losing someone you love can be devastating and you will need some time to recover as best you can before you return to work.

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How to Ask for Bereavement Leave