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It May Be Time to Rethink Your Bereavement Leave Policy

Quick Look: In the United States there is currently no federal law requiring employers to offer bereavement leave – and many businesses are falling short. However, providing ample time off when employees experience a loss is something that benefits SMBs (and their staff). Here are several affordable ways companies can better support their grieving employees, while boosting morale and productivity.

Loss is something that everyone experiences at some point in life. However, when it comes to employee benefits, most people don’t consider their bereavement leave policy until the unfortunate time comes to grieve a loved one. Despite often being overshadowed by other benefits, bereavement leave policies matter, and businesses – and their employees – can benefit in multiple ways by revamping theirs.

The current state of bereavement leave policies

You may be wondering what bereavement leave policies other businesses have in place. The answer to that question varies – in the United States, there is currently no federal law requiring bereavement leave, meaning it’s up to employers to decide how much time off, if any, to offer employees.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) provided some insight in its 2016 study that discovered most employers offer:

  • Four days for the death of a spouse or child,
  • Three days for the death of other family members like a parent or sibling,
  • One day for an extended family member like a cousin or uncle, and
  • Zero days for a friend, neighbor, or coworker

While U.S. bereavement leave policies are ambiguous, they get even more confusing when it comes to loved ones who aren’t married or blood related.

In addition to the murky rules surrounding many policies, many employees don’t receive any kind of time off to grieve. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 60% of private-sector workers are offered paid bereavement leave. Furthermore, Oregon is the only state requiring employers to provide bereavement leave by law.

The consequences of an inadequate bereavement leave policy

Not providing paid time off for employees takes an emotional toll, as well as a logistical one. It’s been found that settling the affairs of the deceased – including arranging a funeral, claiming benefits, and managing assets – takes an average of 540 hours. And of course, the time required to grieve and heal from a loss is unquantifiable.

Incorporating a plentiful bereavement policy into your business plan not only supports your employees’ mental health during an incredibly vulnerable time but can even have a positive impact on productivity. Researchers have discovered that the decreased productivity and increased absenteeism caused by grief costs the country over $75 billion per year.

How SMBs can adapt

On a personal and professional level, having a substantial bereavement leave policy in place is arguably the right thing to do. So, what are some actionable ways small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can get started either revamping their current policy or implementing a new one?

Offer more time off

At the heart of a bereavement leave policy is, of course, time off. In the event that an employee’s loved one passes on, SMBs can consider offering paid leave days as well as additional unpaid time off.

Arranging and attending a funeral, sorting out finances, and grieving a loss takes time – so how much should be offered? That question depends on what’s right for your company, and your professional employer organization (PEO) may be able to provide further insight to help guide the decision. Some organizations (like Facebook, and ExtensisHR to its internal employees) provide up to 20 days off, an amount of time that has been shown to set a high standard.

Consider “leave donations”

If you’re interested in offering a generous amount of paid time off to grieving workers but nervous about how it may affect your finances, you aren’t alone. Some employers have implemented “leave donations,” where coworkers can donate their unused vacation days to an employee who is coping with a loss. Doing so allows grieving employees to receive more time off by leveraging paid days you had already budgeted for.

Provide flexibility

Grief isn’t a linear process – it comes in stages, and ebbs and flows. You can show you understand this by offering a flexible bereavement leave policy, in which employees can take time off intermittently. For example, someone could take 10 days off right away, followed by 10 days off months later to travel to a postponed memorial service.

Redefine bereavement

As we explored above, the rules surrounding standard bereavement policies are unclear at best. Employers can better define bereavement by redefining it.

Your bereavement leave policy is where you can show your employees that you support them through all kinds of loss. Consider expanding your policy to include friends, extended family members, miscarriages, and even pets, if it doesn’t already.

Policy expansion is becoming commonplace and bereavement leave is likely to become a more sought-after benefit. For example, in January 2022 Goldman Sachs began offering a 20-day paid leave to those who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth. It’s easy to see how this could become standard practice when you consider that 10-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and that after a miscarriage, 29% of women experience PTSD, 24% experience anxiety, and 11% experience moderate to severe depression.

Trust your employees

There is a time and place to keep a detailed paper trail but following the loss of an employee’s loved one is probably not it. According to Harvard Business Review, it’s best to not ask employees to produce a death certificate, obituary, or letter from a hospital or funeral home. The chance that a worker would be untruthful about the death of a loved one is small, and oftentimes the best course of action is to simply give them the space and time necessary to process their loss.

Offer support

In addition to providing paid time off, employers can provide further support to their grieving employees by offering access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

These programs offer free and confidential services including counseling and referrals that address grief as well as other mental and physical wellbeing issues like substance abuse, family problems, psychological disorders, and more.

Count on the expertise of a PEO

Just like your employees aren’t alone when facing a loss, neither are you when creating your bereavement leave policy. By partnering with a PEO like ExtensisHR, you can consult with dedicated, accredited HR professionals who can help you define policies, provide access to an EAP, and much more.

Are you ready to give your bereavement policy a second look? Contact the experts at ExtensisHR today.

If you’re struggling with grief, text HOME to 741741 to contact the Crisis Text Line.

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