When a loved one dies, most workplaces give time off with bereavement pay, though U.S. employers are not legally obligated to do so. Whether you are eligible for bereavement pay when a close relative dies depends on your company's policies.
Defining Bereavement Pay
Bereavement pay is defined as the payment an employee gets when they take time off from work after a loved one dies. Those entitled to this pay are usually immediate family members of the person who has died. This period, known as bereavement leave, is provided so that the deceased's immediate family members can help plan and attend the funeral and have some time to deal with the death. While each place of employment is different, most companies that provide paid bereavement leave usually allow three days, possibly as many as five.
- No federal laws mandate paid or unpaid bereavement leave, so it's completely up to employers to decide if they will provide this type of leave and, if so, in what circumstances an employee qualifies.
- One state, Oregon, does require employers to provide their employees with bereavement leave, but it does not have to be paid. The other 49 states do not require employers to provide even unpaid bereavement leave.
Employee Handbook: Know Your Company's Policies
To find out if your company offers bereavement pay, you will need to consult the current employee handbook or policy manual. The guidelines for bereavement leave are usually outlined in the leave policies section of this document, which may be a subsection of the employee benefits part. If your company offers bereavement leave, this is where you will find details about how much time is allowed, if it is paid or unpaid, who is eligible, and who is defined as a family member.
Sample Bereavement Policy Wording
When you find the policy, read it closely to determine if your situation is covered. The policy will probably be worded in a manner similar to the example below:
- Regular full-time and part-time employees are granted up to a maximum of three days of paid leave in the event of a death in their immediate family. For the purposes of this policy, Immediate family members are a spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent, child, or another relative who lives in the employee's home.
Some companies may include additional family members, such as aunts, uncles, or parents-in-law. Documentation may be required. If your company does not have an employee handbook or the explanation in your company's document is not clear, reach out to the person in charge of human resources or the leave administrator.
Explore Other Policies That May Apply
If the company doesn't offer bereavement pay that is applicable or sufficient in your situation, review the other leave policies in the handbook to see if there are other options available to help you get the time off that you need during this difficult time. For example, if your company offers paid time off (PTO) or vacation time, you may be able to use that program instead of, or in addition to, bereavement leave. If you do not have paid time off accrued, you may be able to request an unpaid leave of absence.
Discuss Your Situation With Your Employer
Every situation is different, so your need for leave in a specific situation might not cleanly fit into a policy. For example, if you are involved in planning the funeral, have other responsibilities revolving around the death, or will need to travel a long distance to be with family or attend services, this could pose a unique challenge. Reach out to your supervisor and/or human resources personnel to ask what bereavement leave options or flexible work arrangements may be possible in your situation. In a large corporation, it can be difficult to bend the hard and fast rules, but a smaller company may be able to provide a more personal touch as you grapple with your needs at this sorrowful time of death.
Beyond Bereavement Leave: Taking Care of You
Bereavement leave can help you navigate the funeral and immediate responsibilities, but it certainly takes longer than a few days to grieve the loss of a loved one. Depending on the relationship you had with the deceased, you may need many months or years to come to terms with the death. While you can return to your duties at work, you likely won't feel as lighthearted as you did before the death. The first set of holidays is always hard to handle as you experience a festive time without your loved one. No one fully understands your pain because no one else held the same relationship with the deceased as you once did. However, there are others who have lost a loved one and might be in a similar situation. Be sure to get the support you need. There are many resources for you online and within your local community.