Develop A Humane Bereavement Policy

The coronavirus has forced companies to revisit many of their policies. It started with work-from-home issues but quickly turned to reviews of parental leave and sick leave policies. And as the Covid virus has turned more deadly, our organizations may also want to review its bereavement policy.

Typically, employees who face the death of a close family member or relative can take a leave from their job to attend a funeral or take care of details that arise due to the death.

Photo by Liza Summer on

For the most part, these policies are at the discretion of the employer. There are no federal laws that require a company to provide such leave on either a paid or unpaid basis.  Only Oregon has a state law mandating a bereavement policy.

But as more employees have to deal with a Covid-related family death or have older parents, this is likely to become a more significant issue for many companies, including yours.

It is also vital because policies like this mean a lot to employees and can even make the difference in retaining and recruiting workers.

In writing or revisiting your policy, be smart about it, and don’t make a difficult time for someone even more difficult due to your approach.

Be generous with the number of days you allow. Whether in your policy or not, consider asking your colleague who is dealing with a loss about what they need. Someone who needs to travel across the country to take care of the affairs when a parent dies might need more consideration than others. If you allow only 1 or 2 days off, you are only adding to their stress.

Some policies only allow for bereavement leave for an immediate family member. It makes no sense to exclude an aunt, uncle, a cousin, or even a friend.

I’ve also heard about companies that require an employee to produce a death notice, an obituary or some other documentation. Hopefully, you trust your staff more than that.

In addition to revisiting your policy, remember to show sympathy to the person. Don’t press for details but let your colleague know that you are willing to support them. Tell them not to worry about work and that you can reassign projects while they are away. Don’t discuss the matter with others on your staff. Let the person decide how and if they want to share information with their colleagues. Be aware that even when a person returns to work, they might be easily distracted or emotional. Give them some space.

During a time like this, leaders demonstrate how much they value their employees. Remind them also of employee assistance programs that could help them. The person who is coping with the loss of someone they care about will always remember how you and their company treats them.

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