What Is Bereavement Leave?

Here’s what you need to know about taking time off from work following the death of a loved one.

What Is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement allows you to step away from your job and process grief.

Losing a loved one is never easy, and neither is going back to work when you’re grieving. But many companies offer their employees time off for bereavement, which is a period of time characterized by deep grief and mourning.

Bereavement leave is paid time away from work that an employee can use for a variety of purposes after the death of a loved one, including make funeral arrangements, attend a funeral, pay respects to their family at a wake or memorial ceremony, and process their grief.

Generally, employers define a loved one as

  • parent
  • grandparent
  • spouse
  • sibling
  • child

Some policies may include extended family or close friends.

Not only is offering time off for bereavement the compassionate thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do. Think about it: When you’re grieving, you’re not exactly feeling productive. Grief puts you in a position where you’re not able to do much of anything, especially your job. You need time to heal and recover from the loss.

Am I entitled to time off for bereavement?

No. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not apply to bereavement, meaning there’s no federal law that requires private employers to provide their workers bereavement leave.

Oregon is the exception. The Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA) allows employees to take up to two weeks of unpaid leave when a family member passes away, so long as the leave is taken within 60 days of the notice of the death of a covered family member. (To be eligible, an employee must have worked for the company for at least 180 calendar days.)

That said, a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management found that 88% of companies offer paid bereavement for full-time employees.

How long is bereavement leave?

Because there is no law mandating bereavement leave, company bereavement policies differ in terms of the number of days an employee receives. The number of days may also depend on the relationship you have to the deceased.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Compensation Survey, paid bereavement leave is a few days (say three paid days for immediate family members and one paid day for other relatives). Of course, you can arrange to take additional time off with your employer.

However, some companies offer generous benefits: Adobe and Facebook, for example, provide up to four weeks of paid bereavement leave for their employees.

How to ask for bereavement leave

If your company has a bereavement policy, it’s important to discuss with your boss how much time off you want to take. Note the funeral date and any dates for travel so that your boss knows when you’ll be unavailable in case of a work emergency. Also, reiterate your commitment to your job and thank your manager for their understanding.

In addition, make arrangements for someone to cover for you while you’re on leave. Ideally you’ll want to appoint a co-worker who is already familiar with the projects that you’re working on. Provide your stand-in with any resources or documents they may need to accomplish these tasks during your absence.

Note: Some companies require employees to provide a bereavement request in writing—and some require proof, such as copies of obituaries or death certificates— before they grant bereavement leave, so check with your human resources department.

What to do while on bereavement leave

The American Psychological Association (APA) points out that everyone responds to grief in their own way, and offers the following coping mechanisms:

  • Talking about your loved one with friends and colleagues
  • Accepting your many emotions
  • Eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep
  • Reaching out and helping others who are dealing with this loss
  • Doing things that commemorate and honor the life of your loved one (ex. plant a tree, collect donations to a favorite charity)

The APA says there is no “normal” amount of time it takes to process grief, and to consider meeting with a psychologist who can help you get through this difficult period.

If you don’t have an adequate support network, you can find a local support group through an organization like GriefShare. Surrounding yourself with people who can help you recover from your loss is invaluable. There are also online support groups, such as HealGrief, that help people mourn and heal, while celebrating a loved one's life.

What if my employer doesn’t offer bereavement leave?

If your company doesn’t provide bereavement leave or doesn’t have a bereavement policy in place, it can’t hurt to ask your manager about taking time off. Your boss may be able to grant you paid or unpaid leave at his or her own discretion.

If all else fails, you can consider using your vacation days, paid time off (PTO), or sick days to take bereavement leave from work.

Time off for bereavement is more than a benefit

Losing someone close to you is a heavy blow, and it takes time to recover from the loss. Working for a company that offers bereavement leave and supports you during your time of mourning can make all the difference. If your employer doesn't offer a decent benefits package, there's no harm in looking for a new job. Need some help taking the first step? Monster will send you email alerts when your choice of companies post new jobs so you can be among the first to apply