Is Bereavement Leave a Federal Law? Know the Facts

Updated February 7, 2022
family grieving at funeral

When dealing with the death of a family member, you'll naturally want to know how much time you are allowed to take off from work to attend services and grieve your loss. This question is not one that can be addressed by looking into federal bereavement laws, because this topic is not addressed in the United States Code (U.S.C.). There is only one federal law that requires employers to provide employees with bereavement leave.

Not a Federal Law Matter

While many companies do have policies allowing for bereavement leave or paid time off (PTO) policies that allow employees to take time off with approval for any reason, there are no federal laws specific to bereavement. In fact, except for the Family Medical Leave Act, which addresses time off due to serious illness or becoming a parent, there are no U.S. federal laws that require employers to provide any time off from work at all.

What About State Law?

Oregon is the only state that requires employers to provide employees with bereavement leave. The Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA) requires employers to allow employees to take up to two weeks of bereavement leave following the death of an immediate family member in order to make funeral arrangements or attend the funeral. This leave does not have to be paid, but employees who have accrued paid sick leave must be allowed to use it in this situation. As of early 2022, no other states require bereavement leave.

Review Company Bereavement Leave Policy

Rather than searching for a federal law on bereavement leave, you should review your employee handbook to see if your company has a policy specific to this type of leave. If so, the policy is likely to specify the particular relationships covered and how much time is allowed. Such policies are typically very limited, usually covering only a parent, child, or sibling and allowing between one and three days off. However, specifics can vary significantly from one company to another. Some may cover more relatives or allow a few more days. Some organizations that provide this type of leave also offer bereavement pay, but many do not.

Providing Proof of Bereavement

employee asking for bereavement leave at work

If your company has a bereavement policy for which you might qualify, you may be required to provide proof of the situation to your boss or to your company's HR department. There are several ways you could prove your need for bereavement leave. Requirements vary from one company to another. Ask your supervisor or HR representative what they need before you start gathering documentation.

  • Some companies may accept a basic written request from you, either as a letter or on a leave request form. You will need to list your relationship to the deceased and give a brief overview explaining your need for bereavement leave and how many days (within the policy limits) you need.
  • If you need to submit documentation to back up your request, you can provide a copy of the obituary, either from a newspaper or memorial website, as this type of write-up generally lists the names of the deceased individual's immediate family. A funeral announcement published on the website of the funeral home may also suffice.
  • You may also need to provide proof you actually attended a funeral or other type of memorial service during your time away from the office. If a funeral program is distributed at the service, you can submit a copy of it as documentation. Another option might be a photo of your signature in the guest book, or signage at the event. If an airline approves you for bereavement airfare, documentation of this fact may suffice.

PTO or Vacation Alternative

If your company does not have a bereavement policy, or if there is a policy but it does not apply to your specific situation, the first thing you should do is identify whether you have any accrued time under your company's vacation or PTO policy. If so, follow your company's policy regarding requesting the time off that you need. When submitting your request, explain the circumstances as appropriate, to help expedite approval.

Discuss Bereavement Leave Needs With Management

If you don't have accrued time, either because you are not eligible for vacation or PTO, or because you have used all your time, discuss the situation you are facing with your boss. They may be able to rearrange your work schedule or temporarily allow you to telecommute if you need to travel a long distance for the funeral. You may even want to ask for permission to take an unpaid leave of absence in order to handle funeral arrangements or to travel or cope with your grief. While your employer does not have to approve such a request, you won't know unless you ask.

Time Off After a Relative Dies

Everyone needs at least some time off from work after losing someone they love. Most employers are willing to work with good employees who lose a close family member, but no federal law requires them to do so. If you feel this should change, reach out to your legislative representatives at the federal and state levels and urge them to consider proposing bereavement leave legislation.

Is Bereavement Leave a Federal Law? Know the Facts