When an employee experiences the loss of a loved one the first question a company often encounters is, how much time away from work does an employee need to recover from the loss? Many companies have stated bereavement policies relating to time away from work and in general even a bereavement policy’s application to an employee can be evaluated depending on a number of factors ranging from the type of loss and relationship to the deceased. The employee’s relationship and seniority to the company and the company’s operational needs are considered as well.

Although this is a difficult decision and determination for the company, it is often the case where the role of the individual and the business requirements are also a key consideration in determining and planning the time away from work.

Grieving is very personal and unique. Although a company may have a standard bereavement policy, it is common for employees and management or human resource departments to discuss and determine an appropriate amount of time away from work. It is difficult to gauge how much time will be necessary and there is no right or wrong answer to the amount of time needed by an employee. There are studies showing that employees do tend to process the grief successfully when he or she feels the business is understanding and supportive during the time of transition.

When an Employee Returns to Work

Everyone grieves in a unique way. It is important for companies to be mindful of the business’s needs with the employee’s mindset when returning to work. The treatment of an employee during difficult times can foster trust, loyalty and be very helpful to the business over the long term. Conversely, if there is limited understanding this could be harmful to the employee/employer relationship. This all must be balanced with the needs of the company and communicated clearly. It is common that when an employee returns to work there is usually an adjustment period and some transition may be required. While the employee will not cease to think about the loss of the loved one, allowing proper time to mourn and recover will help the process of returning to the normal routine of life and complete productivity.

Company Challenges with Bereavement Policies When Employees Return to Work

Loss is a part of the life experience, but the resulting grief often affects productivity at the workplace. A company faces many challenges when managing the employer/employee relationship. Having a stated bereavement policy providing for how and when an employee should return to work following a death is helpful because it creates a standard. That said, it is recommended that a company, its managers and human resource department remain aware of the circumstances and loss to help support employees during a difficult time.

When an employee returns to work following a death, the company has many items to consider and manage. If an employee returns too soon or is unable to cope with the loss, the emotional turmoil that follows a loss can cause difficulties in concentration, lapses in logical judgment, and the resulting symptoms from stress. Extreme cases can include depression, lack of motivation for living, and substance abuse. All of these items can create long-term damage for the individual person and also impact greatly the quality of productivity, which of course creates financial implications for the business. With regards to timing, in addition to person needs of employees for time off, in certain instances, religious or cultural beliefs may restrict or even prohibit the individual from working during times of loss.

Economic Cost to Companies when Loss or Grief Impacts Employees

Companies recognize and employees understand that there are business costs that are often considered when establishing bereavement policies. In addition to short term costs a business may endure, there are potentially even larger long-term implications. Several studies over the past decade show that businesses suffer increased health costs, higher absenteeism, injuries and errors following the return from a period of bereavement. In addition, the bereaved often are guilty of missed opportunities in the workplace, causing an even greater financial loss. The Grief Recovery Institute estimates the annual cost of grief in the workplace at over $75 billion dollars.

The financial impact alone is causing some businesses to explore how they can better help troubled employees. Workplace loss is a topic that standardization is extremely difficult, but it is always recommended to remain open, transparent and have a stated bereavement policy to help guide employees.

Employee’s Paid Time Off (“PTO”) and Company Policies

Paid time off (PTO) is time that an employee does not actually work, but receives payment for the time. Traditionally, PTO has been used for personal or family emergencies, medical concerns, and death in the family. PTO may be different than vacation time, but more and more employees are combining the traditional PTO and vacation time into one pool that can be used for either. Many companies have bereavement policies in place that do not affect the PTO or vacation pool. If additional time is needed to recover from the loss, PTO may be used to make a better transition.

In general, it is helpful and builds rapport for the company and management, when employees are encouraged to use available days provided for bereavement. Supervisors should be aware of the specific policies that are in place at the business. Because no two circumstances are exactly alike, dialogue between the employee and management will assure that the needs of both sides are met. Communication is the key during the difficult times of loss.