Blog Articles

The HR Guide to Bereavement Leave and Grief Support

A rundown of recent bereavement leave trends and how HR can stay on top of them

Nikhil Bendre

by Nikhil Bendre - April 23rd, 2022

Grief is an emotion that is extremely difficult to navigate. When we mourn the loss of loved ones, we are at our most vulnerable state, and the last thing on our minds is work. That’s why it’s the responsibility of human resources and leadership to establish policies and processes that adequately support employees in the event of great loss.

Whether an employee experiences the death of a family member, friend, partner, or pet, make sure your organization can offer condolences as well as actionable support. Consider the following practices and policy implementations to strengthen your employee support system.

Grief is becoming a crisis in the US. According to data collected, most US workers only receive three days for the bereavement of a close family member, and there is no federal law giving workers paid time off for bereavement or for attending a funeral.

Given the impact of COVID-19, this crisis has bubbled as many workers are left with no time – or minimal time – for bereavement, which is a massive emotional toll on workers across the country. In addition to the time needed for their own emotional support process, many workers will also need to manage logistics, arrangements, funeral planning, attendance, critical paperwork and beyond. To do that in 3 days is nearly impossible – and many workers don’t even receive that!

Compared to other countries, the US has a long way to go but fortunately, at the organizational level, many HR leads are carving out their own policies for their employees. We’ve recently written on equitable bereavement policies more broadly, but for many HR teams, it’s difficult to determine which is the best policy for their organization. After all, what’s common in Tech may be completely different in Finance – for example. Therefore, this article will focus more on bereavement leave trends and policies by industry to help HR determine the standard amount of leave based on their business and how it might look different for different industries.

Bereavement leave and leave trends by industry

According to research conducted by NFP, standard policies often look like the below:

  • 68% of survey responders offered 1-3 days of bereavement leave for immediate family members, while 28% offered 4-7 days.

  • 45% of responders offered 1-3 days for non-immediate family members, while 6% offered 4-7 days%.

  • 20% of responders offered 1-3 days for family friends or close friends.

  • Only 3% of responders offered bereavement leave for pets.

By sector, responders reported the following:

  • 76% of government contractors offered 1-3 days for immediate family members, 18% offered 4-7 days for immediate family members, and 37% offered 1-3 days for non-immediate family members.

  • 65% of nonprofits or associations offered 1-3 days for immediate family members, and 31% offered 4-7 days for immediate family members. 39% offered 1-3 days for non-immediate family members, and 10% offered 4-5 days for non-immediate family members. 18% offered 1-3 days for family friends or close friends.

  • 65% of commercial organizations offered 1-3 days for immediate family members, and 34% offered 4-7 days for immediate family members. 55% offered 1-3 days for non-immediate family members, and 28% offered 1-3 days for family friends or close friends.

For more practical examples, here are three different company policies:

  • Facebook offers 20 days of fully paid bereavement leave for close family members.

  • NHS UK offers one full working week which can be extended to two weeks with management approval – for close family members.

  • Blackrock’s leave is determined on a case-by-case basis through a flexible policy.

And to get even more granular, three HR leads have shared their own policies below:

  • Unlimited PTO = unlimited grievance policies

  • Up to 5 days for immediate family members with a desire to extend to 15 days

  • 3 days for immediate family members with additional days granted for travel

But to think more broadly, here are some policies and practices in other countries:

In the UK, employees are entitled to a “reasonable amount of time” for emergencies that is unlimited and up to the employers to determine. This time is not required to be paid but employers are not allowed to retaliate, lay employees off or refuse them the right to this time.

In Canada, employees are entitled to five days of leave in the event of a death in their immediate family. It can be taken from the date of death up to 6 weeks after the funeral service. The employer can also extend the leave.

In New Zealand, employees are typically entitled to three days for any close family member, and there are considerations for other people based on relational closeness and any cultural or logistical responsibilities.

Ultimately, it’s up to an employer to determine if they want to follow their industry norms, or if they want to be industry leaders. We’re not limited to what’s the standard in the US, and in fact, the average days of bereavement leave granted across different countries can be found below:

  • US: 3 days

  • UK: 14 days

  • India: 7 days

  • China: 3 days

  • Brazil: 2 days

  • Japan: 5 days

  • France: 5 days

  • Spain: 2 days

  • Canada: 5 days

  • New Zealand: 3 days

Of course, as we discussed in our equitable bereavement post, there are a number of best practices to consider when setting up a policy at your organization.

Creating a Bereavement Leave Policy

There is no federal requirement for companies to provide bereavement leave for grieving employees. However, you absolutely should, both to set your organization apart from those who don’t go the extra mile for their teams and also to simply support your people and be empathetic to their pain. Construct a set Bereavement Leave Policy that answers any and all questions employees could have about the logistics of their situation from a work point of view. For standard housekeeping, be sure to include:

  • Whether the leave will be paid or unpaid (we highly recommend granting additional PTO for this.)

  • Exactly how much time your employees can take away from work.

  • An explanation of how your employees can request time off for bereavement in a secure and private manner. If you decide to implement an HRIS like GoCo, our feature for requesting PTO allows employees to file their request under a particular category, one of which is “Personal Leave.” Submitting this request takes a grand total of 30 seconds on the employee’s part, essentially relieving them of 99% of the administrative burden.

What kind of loss will be included in the policy?

Will your policy include extended family members and/or close friends? Will it include forms of parental loss including loss around miscarriages and stillbirths? Avoid indicating to employees that only certain types of relationships are significant enough to qualify for bereavement by being as expansive as possible.

What will the policy entail?

What types of employees will be eligible for the leave? Is it paid or unpaid? Who is considered under the policy and how many days are provided? Does it accrue, reset or is it unlimited? What are the guidelines for requesting leave?

How can the policy be people-driven and inclusive?

We encourage organizations to be as inclusive as possible; there are a number of “non-traditional” family arrangements that may not be top of mind, but would result in devastating personal loss to the employees. For this reason, many companies opt for a broad bereavement leave that doesn’t depend on the relationship.

If this sounds like a lot of administrative detail to consider, GoCo can help!

Easily request and approve bereavement time off in HRIS – Users can easily request bereavement time off and have it appear directly on their timesheets. Managers will receive timely notifications and reminders for approving leave requests so employees can focus on their personal lives first. The HRIS also reports on timesheet calculations so it’s easy to understand and reference team hours.

Prioritize the Privacy of the Bereaved

The death of a loved one is an extremely sensitive event for all who are involved. From a management perspective, it’s important to respect your employee’s privacy. Some companies go as far as to request proof of death before granting any type of leave or leeway. Please tread carefully with this, as the ethicality of this practice is highly questionable. At the end of the day, the workforce has to know that life comes first, not work. In this case, your role is to support and reassure, not to question and speculate.

However, from an admin perspective, we realize there are things you need to handle on your end as management. GoCo’s Workflows feature makes it incredibly easy to set a process in place for these types of situations, so you can design a process that automates as much as possible for you and your employee, handles the required items, and remains sensitive to the employee’s needs and privacy.

Remember to be Flexible With Your Leave Policy

In addition to the obviously devastating emotional impact of death, there are also costs in the forms of time and money. With unexpected death, getting affairs in order can take a significant amount of time and funerals can be extremely expensive. During a time of such hardship, we cannot stress enough just how helpful it is when your employees aren’t weighed down by the fear of professional obligations and/or consequences.

Each situation is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to grief. Your set bereavement leave period may not be enough in some cases. What will set you apart as an employer is your willingness to work with your employee and find an arrangement that works for both of you!

Provide Additional Support After the Loss of a Loved One

Financial Support

As previously mentioned, dealing with the aftermath of death can be an extremely expensive affair. Consider implementing a stipend program that provides your employees with some help in handling the costs associated with a funeral and/or final rites. Helping in this way is sure to be a huge weight lifted off of the shoulders of your employee, allowing them to focus more on what truly matters – being with their loved ones during the hardest of times.

Emotional Support

Consider partnering with resources that provide emotional help and guidance for your employees should they find themselves in these circumstances. Keep the option open for discounted therapy, or think about taking on the full financial responsibility yourself so that it’s completely free for the employee. You never know just how helpful it can be to have help readily available!

It may seem like your organization is limited in how it can be there for employees processing loss. However, there are steps your company can take to become a pillar of support to help in whatever ways you can. By going the extra mile for your team members in their times of need, you’re strengthening that relationship and, most importantly, connecting with your team on an empathetic and human level.

We hope that these tips help your organization develop a system that truly places your employees’ best interests at heart and that we’ve illustrated just how helpful an HRIS can be in doing so! Take a tour to find out how GoCo can help!

Subscribe to Beyond The Desk to get insights, important dates, and a healthy dose of HR fun straight to your inbox.

Subscribe here

Fully automate your HR with GoCo.