How to Ask for Bereavement Leave When a Loved One Dies

Updated February 7, 2022
employee asking for bereavement leave at work

Some employers have a policy in place for bereavement leave, but not every company offers this type of leave. When the time comes to ask for some time off to plan or attend a funeral or to grieve, your manager or the company's HR representative should be your first stop. The approach you should use will vary based on whether or not your organization has a policy in place, and whether it allows for sufficient leave to meet your needs.

Asking for Leave via a Bereavement Policy

If your company has a bereavement leave policy, it will specify the circumstances under which leave is allowed, how many days are available, and whether bereavement pay is provided. For example, a company's bereavement policy may allow 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 grandparent. Federal law does not require U.S. employers to provide bereavement leave.

Discuss With Your Manager

Consider the bereavement policy as a starting point, as some companies may allow the boss to allow for more leave at their discretion. You may be able to supplement bereavement leave with some of your paid time off (PTO) or request an unpaid leave of absence if you need more than three days to make funeral arrangements or to travel to the funeral. If you have accrued sick leave or if the company allows medical leaves of absence, these may be options for taking time off to grieve.

Verify Details and Procedures

You may be so relieved that your boss is sympathetic to your situation that you don't verify the 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 the policy, you might mistakenly assume you can take a few weeks to grieve and still receive pay. Ask specific questions to be sure you fully understand the details.

  • 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 approved?

Submit a Bereavement Leave Request

Check your employee handbook so you know the company's bereavement policy before you formally 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 rather than relying on promises from someone who isn't authorized to approve your leave. You may need to submit a computerized or paper time off request form or reach out directly to HR or your boss.

Provide Required Details

Though it may feel callous, some employers require documentation to support your claim of needing bereavement leave. Supply a copy of the obituary or whatever they need to ensure your request is approved. You may be required to bring in documentation after the funeral to verify that you were in attendance.

Submit Other Time off Requests (If Applicable)

If you are going to request additional time off beyond what the company allows specifically for bereavement, you will probably need to submit additional documentation. Based on the outcome of your conversation with your manager, follow the company's policy to request any other type of leave that you are seeking approval to take.

Verify Approval in Writing

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

Requesting Time off Without a Bereavement Leave Policy

employee talking to HR about bereavement leave

If you work for a business that does not have a bereavement leave policy in place, or if your situation is outside the scope of your company's policy, you'll need to make a special request. Approach your immediate supervisor or the company's HR representative to ask about taking time off for this purpose.

Good Example vs. Bad Example

The way you word your request can help dictate the direction the response takes:

  • Good example: "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 example: "My mom passed away last night, so 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 designated time off for these situations.

What to Say: Sample Language

If you're not sure how to word your request, use the sample wording below for inspiration. Each situation is unique, so adjust accordingly. Keep in mind that you are asking for the company to cooperate with your need for time off, but they are not obligated to do so. Ask rather than demand, and make sure your tone stays respectful.

  • Immediate local family member: "I am heartbroken by the loss of my mother. She passed away yesterday after a long illness. As you know, I am very committed to my job and would ordinarily not ask for time off without advance notice. I know we don't have an official bereavement leave policy, but I am hoping that you will be willing to work with me as I grieve the loss of my parent. What options are available?"
  • Out-of-town family member: "I need your help. My grandmother passed away last night in [insert location], which is [number of hours] hour away from here. My parents desperately need assistance with funeral planning and figuring out what comes next. What options are available for me to be away from the office for five to seven days, so that I may say goodbye to my grandmother and grieve with my family?"
  • Friend or non-immediate relative: "My cousin, who has been my best friend since childhood, died unexpectedly. I know this loss doesn't fall under an official bereavement policy, but I desperately need some time to come to terms with this. I am hoping you will be willing to work with me. I am devastated and need to be with family at this time. What are my options for taking some time off from work?"

Compensation Considerations

If you ask in an appropriate manner, an employer that doesn't have a bereavement policy is likely to allow you to be off from work for at least a few days after you lose a loved one. However, giving you permission to take time off does not necessarily mean that you will be paid as if you were working. You will probably need to use accrued PTO, vacation, or sick leave if you wish to be paid during the time you are allowed to be away from work.

Explore Alternatives for Time to Grieve

Even if there is no 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. If your family member is being buried far away, you may need to be out of the office for a full week or more. Depending on the nature of your job, you may be able to work out an arrangement with your employer to work remotely for a period of time. Or, you may need to request a leave of absence from work. Losing someone you love can be devastating. 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 When a Loved One Dies