When an employee loses a family member, the last thing he or she should be worried about is job security. Organizations of every size should have a clearly-written Bereavement Leave policy to address paid and unpaid time off for these situations.
There is no Federal employment or labor law that mandates paid time off for bereavement. However, state and local laws may apply. Before instituting such a policy, be sure to research these based on each workplace location.
Paid time off for a bereavement situation can be structured in several ways:
- A tiered approach specifies the relationship of the deceased to the employee, with longer time off available in the case of death of immediate family members. For example, your policy can state that three days with pay are available for immediate family members such as a spouse, parent, child or sibling (remember to include in-laws and “step” relationships). A second level could offer one day for other family such as aunt, uncle, grandparent or cousin.
- An open-ended or flexible policy could state that “paid leave is available for up to five days,” for example, to be decided on a case by case basis.
- Based on workplace needs and demographics, the policy can also specify days available for part-time or seasonal workers.
Whatever your Bereavement Leave policy specifies, there may be situations where more time off is needed. The employee may have to be away from work for an extended period, for international travel or family obligations, as examples. Additional paid time off can be made available, subject to manager and HR approval, through your vacation policy, or unpaid time off through a Personal Leave.
In all cases, it is essential that HR keep complete and accurate records to ensure that policies are applied consistently and fairly to all employees.
As HR manager, be sure to counsel the employee’s supervisor or manager so he or she is able to clearly explain the Bereavement Leave policy to the employee. The policy should be readily available to both the manager and the employee. Any employee responsibilities, such as providing adequate notice of absences, should be specifically referenced.
Importantly, ensure that the manager refers the employee to your Employee Assistance Plan as soon as possible. EAP professionals are experienced in grief counseling and associated issues such as family obligations and financial worries. The grieving period for the employee will continue long after he or she is back at work, and dealing with a myriad of personal and professional issues.
Your EAP resources can also assist you, as well as the manager, on how to approach sensitive topics with the grieving employee. Don’t hesitate to reach out for the employee to offer your own condolences; this personal approach on behalf of your organization will be appreciated by all concerned.
Lastly, keep in mind that your organization’s handling of these situations, as well as your own personal approach in HR, can ease the employee’s burden in a time of grief. Your employee can focus on family concerns and his or her own sense of loss, without worrying about job security. A well-written and properly administered Bereavement Leave policy, partnered with EAP support, will go a long way to minimize the employee’s workplace worries during a time of personal grief.