How much leave to offer and whom to offer it to remains a policy gap. Employees who need time away from work to grieve and to cope with the death of a loved one have no legal right to take leave, with narrow exceptions in Illinois, Oregon and Washington. Bereavement is not an acceptable use of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, despite recent efforts to add it to the law.
Many employers offer bereavement leave; however, the leave is often only a few days, which is not sufficient for most employees coping with a death. Bereavement can have broad and long-lasting effects on an employee’s health and well-being, with substantial impacts on productivity at work. Allowing employees adequate time to grieve their loss has benefits for both the employee and the employer. Bereavement policies can be structured in a variety of ways, and the size of an organization is likely to impact the type of policy that can be implemented.
As our nation faces the coronavirus pandemic, overdoses, suicide, homicide and mass mortality events (both manmade and natural disasters), employers are forced to acknowledge bereavement and its implications for families, while staying solvent and productive. It is a difficult balance for employers to strike. To address these needs and set national standards, Evermore recommends employers institute a bereavement leave benefit (note: not to be confused with sick leave):
1. Employers with five or more employees should have clear, written bereavement leave benefit policies in employee handbooks or outlined in similar guidance.
2. Small employers (fewer than 50 employees) should offer five days of unpaid leave to bereaved employees following the death of a close family member; thereby, permitting individuals to return to work at the conclusion of the five-day unpaid, leave period.
3. Mid-sized employers (between 50 and 499 employees) should offer five days of paid leave following the death of a close family member and employees should have the option of two additional weeks of unpaid bereavement leave; thereby, permitting individuals to return to work at the conclusion of the 15-day leave period.
4. Large employers (more than 500 employees) should offer ten days of paid leave following the death of a close family member and employees should have the option of two additional weeks of unpaid bereavement leave; thereby, permitting individuals to return to work at the conclusion of the 20-day leave period.
What employers can do
Employers should explore ways to ease the transition back to work for bereaved employees. For example, employers can connect employees with needed services (e.g. grief counselors), set up a foundation to channel contributions, or maintain an Employee Assistance Fund (funded by employees and/or employer) that can help workers with expenses related to the death. Employers can also offer flexible schedules and/or reduced hours for employees who are ready to return to work. Returning to work after a death can be difficult for the employee, the employer, and co-workers. There are many ways that employers can offer support during this time, including showing empathy, acknowledging that grief is ongoing, making specific offers to the employee (instead of a general “let me know if you need anything”), and taking cues from the employee.
Employers are vital anchors of family stability and community solvency.
ARE LEADING CHANGE
The Employers Bereavement Leave Pledge
As our nation faces the COIVD-19, drug overdoses, suicide and mass gun violence events, employers are forced to acknowledge bereavement and its implications for families, while staying solvent and productive. To provide employers guidance on bereavement leave policies, we have developed four recommendations that employers can use to ease employees back into the workplace and create a culture of goodwill.