A written company policy for bereavement leave establishes fair and equal guidelines for providing paid and/or unpaid time off to employees for absences related to the death of immediate family members. While the policy may be a part of the employee handbook in larger companies, a formal policy can alleviate problematic situations and can help avoid hurt feelings of employees during their personal time of crisis. The policy should clearly describe the company’s position regarding personal time off, whether the leave will be paid or not, the amount of leave time acceptable, and the relationship of the employee to the deceased that would prompt the leave.

Many human resource professionals suggest that the template for all business’ family bereavement policies should include a definitions section to outline who is considered family, bereavement pay, bereavement leave, policies for attending the funerals of co-workers, and application of the policies.


The scope of the policy simply defines who will be covered by the policy. Companies can choose to include full-time employees only, or also allow a pro-rated policy for part-time workers. Care should be given to specify how to treat employees who are on vacations or a leave-of-absence.

Since bereavement time is typically offered for the death of people with a specific relationship to the employee, this section should also clearly define who would qualify as an immediate family member. Immediate family members have often included parents, siblings, spouse and children. The changing boundaries in relationships in society would broaden this scope to include domestic partners and their immediate families and same-sex partners.

If provision is made for extended family members, friends and co-workers, clear definitions for each group should be made in this section. Grandparents and grandchildren, step-children and step-parents, and adults who played an immediate family member’s role could be included here.

Bereavement Pay

It is important to provide a statement in the bereavement policy, whether and to what extent employees will be provided with paid time off (“PTO”). A statement providing an example of the formula upon which bereavement pay is calculated is very helpful. Clarification should be given as to whether the pay will be full or a percentage portion of the pay. Clearly define any exceptions – bonuses, incentives, overtime pay or shift differentials – that will be included in the formula. This section can include an explanation of whether vacation days can be used for any additional time needed.

Bereavement Leave

Bereavement is a challenging, difficult life event. A bereaved individual often needs time to process and grieve, as well as handle family obligations and make difficult family decisions. Though each circumstance is unique, the workplace should spell out guidelines that can be used as a standard that is fair for all. Exceptions may need to be made for unusual circumstances, but the standard can provide a workable baseline.

Many companies have one amount of time, three days, for example, for immediate family and a lesser amount for extended families. Sometimes a further distinction is added for friends and co-workers. If exceptions are to be made, the procedure for requesting and approving the circumstances should be defined here.

It is not a requirement for a company to provide bereavement leave for its employees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2008, only 69% of workers in the private sector received paid funeral leave. The surveys also showed that two to three days of paid bereavement leave is the norm.

There is a growing number of human resource professionals who are saying that a longer bereavement period is needed. “Three days is a tragedy,” comments Russell Friedman, author of The Grief Recovery Handbook, and executive director of the Grief Recover Institute. He claims that workers need at least a week to deal with the logistics of a funeral, many of which include long-distance planning.

Some companies are experimenting with a bereavement period and then following that with a week’s transition period. During the transition time, the employee would only work half days and then be allowed to take care of family obligations and slowly return to a normal workload.

Most states do not have official laws requiring standards for bereavement leave, but a sense of generally accepted policies may be obtained by examining the leave allotment for state government or educational employees.

Bereavement Leave for the Death of a Co-worker

Co-workers become an extended family for a number of employees. Since a good number of the waking hours of the week are spent with them, special bonds of friendship are formed. As a result, the death of a co-worker can be difficult for others in the workplace.

Many companies allow an amount of time – perhaps four hours – to attend the funeral of a co-worker. Often companies may need to include a clause indicating a limited number of employees leaving or a clause that protects the interest of the business.

If the circumstances of the death were unusual or violent, or if the worker were a very popular individual, provisions may need to be made to bring in a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional to provide times of counsel for the employees.

How to Apply a Bereavement Policy

It is recommended that companies be sensitive to the deep impact that the death of an immediate family member can have on the surviving individuals. A worker who is overwhelmed with grief may not be able to perform the requirements of the job as effectively or efficiently. Additional non-paid time off may be granted and a case by case basis, if available. Requirements for requesting the time, parameters for the additional days and other details should be specified in this section. Companies may choose to limit the additional time to instances of a death in the immediate family. Additional unpaid time off may be granted regarding the distance traveled, employee’s responsibilities for the funeral arrangements, unusual circumstances of the death and the employee’s responsibilities in taking care of the estate of the deceased.

Some businesses make grief counseling available through health insurance options. Time for the counseling may be reimbursed to the employee as an additional benefit.

The company may also want to establish a procedure for the notification of internal co-workers when an employee suffers a loss. The notification system may include the employee’s immediate department or may be system-wide. The policy may outline the procedure for the notification of co-workers, how long the employee is expected to be out, and who should be contacted during the employee’s absence.