How to Take Bereavement Leave: Policy and Guidelines
How to Take Bereavement Leave: Policy and Guidelines

How to Take Bereavement Leave: Policy and Guidelines

Bereavement leave is the last thing that any of us want to think about, but it is important to understand your employer's bereavement leave policy if someone in your immediate family was to sadly pass away.

At a time of grief, you won't want to be fretting over how much bereavement pay you will receive or second-guessing when you are expected to return to work. Instead, you will need time with your family and friends to process your loss and to grieve.

Thankfully, companies that offer bereavement pay and support tend to appreciate the importance of tending to their employees' well-being.

There are clear, identifiable bereavement leave policies, although there is usually enough compassion and understanding to give line managers some flexibility.

After all, everyone grieves differently. Some people seek comfort in the routine of returning to work, while others struggle to cope.

In this article, we explain what bereavement leave is and offer helpful advice on how to ask for time off, should you need it.

What Is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement, more frequently referred to as 'grief', is a person's response to the death of someone they care about.

Bereavement leave is a period of agreed time that an employee may take off work following the passing of a loved one.

The purpose of bereavement leave is to give the employee time to grieve and the chance to arrange and attend a funeral.

Quite often, bereavement leave is referred to as 'compassionate leave' or even 'funeral leave', depending on the policy.

Statutory bereavement leave laws vary from one country to the next.

For example, in the UK, employers only have to offer bereavement leave to parents following the loss of a child. This gives employees the legal right to take up to two weeks off work following the sad passing of a child under 18.

However, if an employee has worked for an employer for at least 26 weeks at the time of their child's passing, they also receive statutory parental bereavement pay.

In the US, it is different. There are no laws (apart from in Oregon) that automatically give employees the right to bereavement leave or bereavement pay. The decision is left to the employer on what to do, so it is important to understand what your employer's bereavement policy is, if they have one.

When Can You Take Bereavement Leave?

Most employers will grant bereavement leave when the employee has requested to take time off from work due to the death of someone they care about.

Most bereavement leave policies will clarify that such a request can only be made if the person who has passed is an immediate family member (partner, spouse, child or parent).

However, some policies are more flexible and leave the decision to the line manager's discretion.

Bereavement leave can take many forms. For example, if you or your partner has suffered the loss of an unborn child, you should be entitled to take time off work if you need to.

How you use the agreed time off is entirely up to you. It could be that you need to be with your family, have to make funeral arrangements or simply need space and privacy to grieve. These are all valid reasons to request bereavement leave.

Usually, bereavement leave is given after a loved one has passed away, but in some circumstances, where a relative is nearing the end of their life, bereavement or compassionate leave may be used beforehand. It all depends on your employer's policy.

How to Ask for Bereavement Leave

It can be hard to know how to begin a conversation about bereavement leave with your employer.

An understanding employer who knows you well should be open to having a conversation with you and not put any pressure on you to return to work.

However, as an employer, they will still need to keep things running in your absence, so they will naturally have questions. They will also want you to return to work as soon as you are able.

But how do you ask for bereavement leave in the first place? Here are some tips, which will help you frame your request.

Check Your Employer's Bereavement Leave Policy

It's much easier to reference what you are entitled to within the bereavement leave policy, as your manager may not be familiar with the finer details.

Having a guideline stops any misunderstanding and enables you to have open, clear lines of communication. You will also already be familiar with your entitlements and will have fewer questions to ask your manager.

Determine How Much Time Off You Will Need

Be open about how many days you believe you will require. You may wish to think about:

  • Other family members you may need to support
  • The time you need to process your emotions
  • How long funeral arrangements may take

It is a good idea to give an approximate timeframe at this stage, but do keep in mind how much time off you are allowed to take in line with company policy.

Ask for Support

Telling somebody else that a loved one has passed away can be overwhelmingly difficult. Consider asking another family member, friend or colleague to tell your employer or even accompany you to a conversation.

Everyone is different, but you may find this makes it easier if you are struggling.

Notify Your Employer

As well as having a conversation, most bereavement leave policies state that written notification must be given. This could be in the form of an email or a letter.

It does not have to be long, but you will be expected to give a brief description of your circumstances, the relationship you had with the person you have lost, when you will be taking bereavement leave and how much time you expect to take off.

Usually, you will need to send a copy to both your line manager and HR department.

Documentation Needed

As clinical as it sounds, you may need to provide proof of your entitlement to bereavement leave. For example, it is not unusual, particularly for larger employers, to ask you to show an obituary or funeral program.

However, most employers will have a form that you will need to fill in that will ask for the name of the person who has passed, your relationship to them and the city of their death. This is so that the death can be verified should your bereavement leave ever be called into question.

Discussing Work Responsibilities

Whether your bereavement leave is expected or not, part of the conversation with your employer will focus on covering your duties in your absence.

While, understandably, it will not be your immediate priority, your employer will need to know about anything that is outstanding. Having the conversation at this point will also make it far easier to return to work when you are ready.

Preparing for Leave

In conversation with your line manager, you will also need to discuss how to communicate your absence to others. Colleagues, who perhaps do not know about your loss, may wonder why you are away. Be clear with your line manager what, if anything, you would like them to say to other members of the team. If you do not want people to know, clarify this.

Your line manager can simply tell people that you are on compassionate leave.

There are other practicalities too, such as setting your out-of-office message and making other people aware of any impending deadlines.

It is a good idea to prepare a short work plan of the things that must be actioned so that you cover them off when asking for bereavement leave.

How To Take Bereavement Leave: Policy and Guidelines
How To Take Bereavement Leave: Policy and Guidelines

Example Bereavement Request Letter or Email

Everyone will have different circumstances when a loved one passes away, but the following example of a written request may give you a starting point:

Sarah's Situation

Sarah wants to request five days' leave on full bereavement pay, as well as two extra days of unpaid bereavement leave.

She has very practical reasons for needing the extra time as there is a lot to organize and specific funeral arrangements she must follow in line with her late mother's wishes. Therefore, she needs to be clear about her needs and thank her employer for their support.

Here's how Sarah could frame the letter.

Dear [name of line manager]

Please accept this email/letter as notification that my mother sadly passed away in the early hours of last night. As you know, my mother and I were exceptionally close, and as a family, we are devastated at her passing.

Fortunately, we had the time to discuss her funeral wishes before she died, and she has asked that she be laid to rest alongside her mother, my late grandmother, in another state. This will take a lot of planning, not to mention flying out to attend the ceremony and hosting a celebration of her life back home.

Having already planned the sequence of events, I anticipate needing to take the full five working days of bereavement leave (as per the company's bereavement policy) in addition to requesting an extra two days for traveling across state. I trust that this will be ok, but please do let me know if there are any issues.

Hopefully, you have already caught up with Stephen, who will be processing payroll in my absence. He is fully aware of the coding system I use and where I am in processing expenses. My other outstanding tasks are not as time-sensitive, so they can wait until I return.

I would like to thank you for your understanding at this difficult time. If you need to contact me, please could I ask that you send me an email in the first instance, and I will either email or call you back.

Best regards,

Sarah

Returning to Work After Bereavement

Returning to work after losing a loved one can be a daunting experience. However, it can also offer a great sense of comfort and a distraction from the rawness of grief.

But what's the normal process for returning to work after a bereavement?

There's no one rule for returning to work.

How and when you return is a discussion for you and your employer. Some people welcome the return to a familiar routine and wish to return full time after just a few days of bereavement leave.

Others, however, need time to come to terms with their loss, especially if they feel distraught at life without their loved one. There are options you can explore if you need that extra time.

For example, you may be able to take extended unpaid leave, have a phased return to work, or even work from home for a while (if your type of work will allow this).

If they have the offering already in place, your employer may provide extra support by way of a grief counselor.

It all depends on how you feel and how open you are prepared to be with your employer. The best advice is not to be afraid to ask for help.

Frequently Asked Questions

Let's look at both the UK and US to answer this question.

Typically in the UK, an employer is not legally obliged to give you full pay, but they must give you time off for losing a dependent, according to the Employment Rights Act 1996.

By ‘dependants,’ the Act refers to a close family member, spouse or child. However, as mentioned above, you may be entitled to statutory parental bereavement pay if you have lost a child.

You may not get paid for the entire time you are away from work, though – two weeks' bereavement pay is the average for UK companies that offer it.

However, an employer will usually make their assessment based on your circumstances while keeping to their overall bereavement leave policy.

The US is not as forthcoming as the UK in legally obliging employers to give bereavement leave or pay.

However, most companies will provide at least three days off with full bereavement pay when an immediate family member has passed and one day for the loss of a more distant relative or close friend. Again though, this will all depend on the individual employer.

Bereavement leave is usually only given to immediate family, which most employers consider children (including foster or stepchildren), parents, spouses or domestic partners.

However, some bereavement leave policies may include siblings, in-laws, grandparents and close friends.

How much you reveal about your grief is entirely up to the individual employee. However, it can be useful to inform your manager that you are grieving as they may not know how much you are struggling.

If they understand that you are bereft and missing a loved one, they may even recommend that you take bereavement leave if you haven't already done so.

A manager will also know what other support you may be entitled to if needed.

Some employers do, while others are prepared to take the employee at their word. However, most big employers will ask for either the details of the person who has passed or your relationship with them.

Although this may feel cold and clinical, there are sensible reasons why companies ask for this information.

It is to make sure that they are responding to your needs in the most appropriate way, and secondly, it is to ensure that the bereavement leave policy is correctly followed.

You may feel lost or numb when on bereavement leave. You may not feel ready to return to work. Perhaps you are worried about what to say to colleagues or feel guilt for carrying on with life.

You will also likely have a series of practical considerations to consider. It can be a very unsettling time, and knowing when to come back to work may not be a simple question to answer.

It is a good idea to talk to loved ones, friends and your line manager about when to return.

It could be that you make a phased return on reduced hours as you process your loss and take care of others around you. Or you may prefer to give yourself a set date for returning that you have agreed with your employer.

There's no hard and fast rule, but you will need to be open with your employer on how you are feeling.

Final Thoughts

Experiencing a bereavement as an employee is seldom the isolating experience you think it might be.

Most employers will do what they can to help you through the process, whether they have a bereavement leave policy or not.

The most important takeaway from this article is to understand your company's bereavement leave policy and reach out to those around you, especially your employer. That way, work will be one less thing to worry about.


Read This Next

You might also be interested in these other WikiJob articles:

Or explore the Jobs & Careers / Employment sections.