Thinking Ahead: Drafting a Bereavement Policy for Your Business

It’s a fact, as a business owner or human resources manager, you are going to face a situation where an employee deals with the death of a family member or close friend. As this poses the potential for a disruption to your business, it is necessary to have a sound bereavement leave policy in place so that you can effectively assist and support your grieving workers while ensuring that your business is still able to operate effectively.

According to the National Counsel for Palliative Care, 87 percent of workers believe that employers should have a compassionate leave policy that includes paid bereavement leave.   Moreover, 56 percent of that same group of workers stated that they would consider leaving their job if they believed that their employer did not sufficiently support them during their time of loss. The study showed that nearly one-third of employees who had faced a grieving situation in the previous five years stated that they had not been treated in a compassionate way by their manager or supervisor.

There is a stark reality in American businesses—ultimately, there are inadequate policies present to help a grieving employee. While many businesses provide an average of three to five days off in order to attend a funeral or deal with immediate loss, the fact of the matter is that the normal grieving process can extend months and even years. Therefore, considering just how delicate of an issue this happens to be, how should an employer manage an employee who lost a loved one?

What the Law Says

It’s true that in our society the subject of paid time off and employee leave is hotly debated. While there is much talk about how much downtime a new mother or father may receive from an employer, there is shockingly little discussion being had about what happens if a wife loses a husband, a father loses a child, or what occurs to a position of employment in other death-oriented situations. From a federal standpoint in America, employers do not have to have a set policy in place—and they are not required to provide any paid time off to a grieving employee. The only state currently on the books to require private sector employers to provide paid bereavement leave is Oregon. Efforts to amend the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to include bereavement leave on a federal level have failed to pass in Congress.

However, just because it is not mandated by law doesn’t mean that your business cannot devise a strategy for compassionately helping employees during a time of loss.

Drafting a Bereavement Policy

It is recommended that any company policy you pen on an individual basis should be reviewed by an attorney. However, as you get started on the process of writing a bereavement policy, here are some points that you should consider per research conducted by the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM):

  • Define an objective for the policy that delivers a summary. Note something along the lines of “The Bereavement Leave Policy establishes uniform guidelines for providing paid time off to employees for absences related to the death of immediate family members and fellow employees or retirees of [Company Name].”
  • Note who is eligible for the policy. For instance, state, “All full-time, active employees are eligible for benefits under this policy.”
  • Then, inform a reader of the procedures that need to be taken to make use of the policy. For example, “An employee who wishes to take time off due to the death of an immediate family member should notify his or her supervisor immediately. Bereavement leave will normally be granted unless there are unusual business needs or staffing requirements. An employee may, with his or her supervisor’s approval, use any available vacation for additional time off as necessary.”
  • You should also note how bereavement pay is calculated. Most policies calculate this based on the base rate of pay at the time of absence. State if any other special forms of compensation are considered in this number (this is not common) such as commissions, bonuses, and shift differentials.

Finally, outline the terms of the policy. Here is what SHRM recommends:

“Paid bereavement leave will be granted according to the following schedule:

  • Employees are allowed up to three consecutive days off from regularly scheduled duty with regular pay in the event of the death of the employee’s spouse, child, father, father-in-law, mother, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother, sister, stepfather, stepmother, stepbrother, stepsister, stepson or stepdaughter. To be eligible for paid bereavement leave, the employee generally must attend the funeral of the deceased relative.
  • Employees are allowed one day off from regular scheduled duty with regular pay in the event of death of the employee’s brother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt, uncle, grandparent, grandchild or spouse’s grandparent. To be eligible for paid bereavement leave, the employee generally must attend the funeral of the deceased relative.
  • Employees are allowed up to four hours of bereavement leave to attend the funeral of a fellow regular employee or retiree of the company, provided such absence from duty will not interfere with normal operations of the company.”

However, remember that in many cases, the above terms may not be far reaching enough, especially in the instance of the loss of a spouse or child—and extended leave could be required. Of course, the structuring of this policy should meet the needs of your employee base and the way your business is run, and an attorney should be counseled—in that regard, every business is different and you may be in the position to provide more flexibility to a grieving employee. Remember that employees will appreciate your generosity and understanding in this regard—and having a comprehensive bereavement policy does garner more loyalty amongst employees when they feel that you, as an employer, generally care about their health and well-being.

For more information on how you can help grieving employees or institute better policies for your business, we invite you to contact BLT Strategies by visiting us online at www.BLTStrategies.com.

Mary Ellen Wasielewski