Bereavement Leave Standards: How Does the U.S. Rank?  

by Mary Ellen Wasielewski

When an employee faces a devastating loss—the death of a spouse, partner, parent, sibling, or child—he or she requires time to process and to grieve. Providing that time isn’t just a pleasantry. It’s important for helping the employee maintain sanity, and in the long run it promotes productivity and healthy workplace culture. In other words, it’s something that all employers should do, whether they are required to or not.

The sad news for employees is that, in the United States, employers generally don’t have to offer bereavement time, and certainly not paid time. In the U.S., there really isn’t a standard of bereavement leave—which leaves employees with very few options, outside of hoping that their boss will prove generous.

How Bereavement Leave Works in the U.S.

According to an article from Recruiter.com, when bereavement leave is granted in the U.S., it’s usually paid, but lasts a relatively short span of time—maybe three days, at the most.

Bereavement leave is not something that employers are legally mandated to provide, however.

“Under some legislation, e.g., the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, there is no specific, mandated provision for bereavement leave, which, therefore, even as unpaid leave, the employee must discuss with the employer,”

Recruiter.com

What’s sad about this is that other countries in the Western world do a much better job of providing for those who are grieving. Again, Recruiter.com offers a cogent summary: “In other countries, e.g., Canada, all employees must be granted paid bereavement leave for a specified period, when eligibility criteria, such as continuous employment for three months, have been met. While the U.K. mandates bereavement benefits and ‘reasonable’ unpaid time off for emergencies involving dependents, there is no specific provision for bereavement leave (paid or unpaid), which will therefore depend on the private arrangements with the employer.”

Clearly, when it comes to caring for those who are in mourning, our government doesn’t stack up well against our neighbors to the north and just across the pond. That’s a shame: American workers both deserve and desperately need time to heal in the wake of a tragic loss. The law may not offer it, but that doesn’t mean that employers shouldn’t take up the cause.

Implications for Employers and Employees

The level of bereavement leave that companies can offer to employees may vary depending on the size of the company; a smaller business with just a half dozen employees may find itself more resource-strapped than a large corporation. Even so, employers are encouraged to do whatever they can to provide bereavement leave for their employees. Even a couple of days of paid time off can be helpful in making funeral plans, attending the memorial service, and just taking a few minutes to process things.

Again, this isn’t just about being nice. It’s ultimately in the business’ best interests to provide employees with a chance to attend to their own mental health, which is what the mourning process really is. Those looking to build engagement, cultivate employee loyalty, or promote workplace wellness can do all of that simply be being lenient in bereavement time.

As for employees, the law may not offer you sanctuary, but you can and should be candid with your employer, and talk about your mental health needs in the wake of a major loss. Ask for the kind of time you need, and work with your employer to come to an arrangement. You need time to grieve, and shouldn’t take the law’s silence as the final answer.

For further help in your grieving process, we also welcome you to contact our team. BLT Strategies delivers when personal catastrophe and business demands COLLIDE.