The Latest News on Bereavement Leave for Employees

Q. My brother is now in hospice care, and I will be in charge of the funeral arrangements. Am I entitled to bereavement leave from my employer?

You probably are if you live in Oregon. Effective Jan. 1, 2014, Oregon became the first state to require employers with 25 or more employees that are subject to the Oregon Family Leave Act to offer up to two weeks of leave although not necessarily paid leave after the death of a family member, including a same-sex domestic partner. The employee must have worked for 20 or more work weeks in the year of the leave or the year before.

As for paid bereavement leave, the benefit is offered by 87 percent of employers in the U.S. (separate from vacations, sick and personal leave), according to a 2013 research report by the Society of Human Resource Management. However, the amount of paid time available can vary, depending on factors like travel distance to the funeral and whether the employee must handle funeral and estate arrangements. The report found a slight increase in organizations offering paid leave compared to 2009, although companies offering any type of bereavement leave actually declined.

"We’re one of the only industrialized countries in the world that don’t offer mandatory paid leave for bereavement,” says Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits for the society. To date, Congress has defeated proposals for paid leave for the death of a child, due at least partially to concern about the effects on small businesses.

The society's report notes that benefits apply to full-time, active employees for the death of a spouse, child, parent or parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, stepparent, stepsibling, stepson or stepdaughter and often for a very close nonfamily member as well, such as a best friend. For example, the leave might be three days for the death of a close relative; one day off in other cases. Small companies are less likely to offer paid bereavement leave than large ones.

In your place, I’d talk to human resources right now to clarify whether and how you’re covered for bereavement leave. Be aware that many large companies have employee assistance plans that include grief counseling and possibly other services such as baby-sitting help for your children while you attend to funeral and estate details. It’s worth checking out.

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If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.

Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a blog for bereaved spouses and partners.

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Comment by T.C. Goodwin on February 11, 2014 at 12:46pm

Thanks for this blog. I do think companies should extend the allotted time off to at least a week. Especially ,if you are in charge of the funeral arrangements. I do agree to check with your HR department about the bereavement policy.(Proverbs 21:5)

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