Bereavement Time Off: How to Handle Leave for Your Employees

The death of a loved one can be difficult to go through. When an employee loses a loved one, offering bereavement time off can give your employee time to cope. Employees can use bereavement leave to make funeral arrangements, attend the funeral, and manage the estate.

Bereavement leave can promote a productive work environment because it gives employees time to recover from their losses.

Bereavement leave federal law

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require you to offer bereavement leave to employees. If you do choose to offer leave to employees, you are not required to pay them for the time off. The FLSA allows you to set your own workplace rules regarding bereavement leave.

Not sure what the FLSA does and doesn’t cover?

Patriot’s free guide can help. Download our FLSA cheat sheet to learn more about FLSA rules, get an overview of other labor laws, and more.

The FMLA and bereavement leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires some employers to grant employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for specific health and family reasons. While FMLA leave is not a type of bereavement leave, employees might be able to use FMLA leave during times of loss.

For example, an employee might be able to use FMLA leave to care for a dying relative. Or, an employee might be able to use FMLA leave for grief counseling.

State laws

Most states do not have bereavement leave laws. Oregon, for example, is one exception. The Oregon Family Leave Act allows employees to take up to two weeks of job-protected leave when a family member passes away.

Employees in Oregon can use the leave to make funeral arrangements, attend the funeral, or grieve the family member’s death. For more information about Oregon’s bereavement leave policy, you should reference the Oregon Family Leave Act.

Check with your state to find out if it has a state bereavement law requiring paid or unpaid time off.

What to include in your bereavement time off policy

If you want to have a bereavement leave policy for your business, it is best to think about it now. You should record the policy in your employee handbook. Having a written policy can help you treat your employees fairly should they need to use bereavement time off. Here are some things you might want to include in your policy.

Amount of time off

How much time off will you give to your employees? The most common length of bereavement time off is three days. But, you can offer more or less time off. You can also use varying amounts of time off that depend on the employee’s relationship to the deceased, how involved the employee is in making arrangements, and how far away the funeral is. You should document the amount of time employees can take off and your reasoning behind your decision.

For whom employees can use leave

You should decide when employees can use bereavement leave. You might allow employees to use leave for immediate family members (e.g, parents, siblings, children). But, can employees use leave for extended family members (e.g., aunts, uncles, grandparents, in-laws) and close friends? Make it clear to employees when they can and cannot use leave.

Pay during leave

You can pay employees during their bereavement leave, but you do not have to. Decide if you will pay employees during the leave. You might also want to create a special pay rate, such as half the employee’s regular wages.

Eligibility to take leave

Will you create your bereavement leave policy so all employees can take time off? You can create a policy that only allows employees to use bereavement leave after they have worked for you for a certain amount of time. For example, you can create a policy that only allows employees to use bereavement leave after they complete 90 days of work.

Notification of leave

Employees should have a way to notify you that they want to use bereavement leave. Perhaps this is the way employees notify you of other types of leave. Or, you could give your employees an after-hours way to contact you.

Proof of leave

You might ask employees to prove that they used their leave for bereavement purposes. You could ask employees to show you an obituary, funeral program, or prayer card. You can also simply ask your employee to provide you details on the name of the deceased, date of death, city of death, and relationship to the deceased. Often, these details are enough to verify the death. These documents will show that someone did unfortunately die and that the employee was not requesting time off for a mini vacation.

Special requests and exceptions

You might allow employees to make special requests regarding their bereavement leave. Perhaps your employee needs extra time for travel or to meet with estate lawyers. In your employee handbook, write down your policy for granting special bereavement leave requests. If you will have a no-exceptions policy, make that clear too.

Policy violations

You should have guidelines to follow in case an employee violates your bereavement leave policy. For example, you might decide to suspend an employee for a leave violation.

Creating the best bereavement leave policy

A perk of owning a small business is you get to know your employees well. You understand their needs and often know parts of their personal lives. Only you know how to create the best bereavement leave policy that will keep your business running while giving your employees time to grieve.

Tracking employee work hours and leave can be a hassle. Let us help you out. Our payroll software has an online time and attendance add-on that makes managing employee time a breeze. Try it for free today!

This article has been updated from its original publication date of August 14, 2012.

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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