Losing a loved one is an unfortunate inevitability in life. It doesn’t matter if it was sudden or expected, peaceful or tragic—we all need time to grieve a loss.
When real-life intersects with business, bereavement leave policies can provide some compassionate flexibility, allowing employees to take time off within clear boundaries.
What is bereavement leave?
Bereavement leave is time off from work to attend to personal needs in the event of a familial death. The amount of time allowed and whether or not employees will be compensated during their leave depends on local regulations, cultural expectations and company policies.
Many bereavement policies also include different stipulations depending on the employee’s degree of relation to the deceased. When an employee suffers the death of a spouse or the death of a child, for example, they may be entitled to more time off to grieve the loss of these close family members.
Should bereavement leave be paid?
Bereavement leave is common around the globe—but whether or not employees receive paid bereavement leave in other countries can vary. Paid leave is common for full-time, regular employees. It’s also common for casual or part-time employees to be given unpaid leave.
For example, in Australia, regular full- and part-time employees are entitled to two days of paid leave, while casual employees are allowed unpaid time off. In Canada, employees may be entitled to up to 10 days of bereavement leave, including three days of paid time and seven days of unpaid time.
How laws affect bereavement policies
Most countries don’t explicitly mandate bereavement time, leaving the matter between employees and employers. However, employers widely accept that cultural traditions should be respected and that bereavement policies are in the best interest of employees and employers.
Some countries, like France (three days of paid leave) and Spain (two to four days), have laws providing for bereavement at the national level. Others, like the U.S., India and the UK, don’t legally mandate bereavement in most cases, but it is still a common practice among most employers.
The UK and New Zealand are among the first nations to pass legislation specifically for parental bereavement leave to support parents grieving the loss of a child, stillbirth or miscarriage.
How culture affects bereavement policies
How we mourn the death of our loved ones is deeply rooted in cultural tradition. This means that each country has its own rituals for burial and grieving. And it means that global employers are at risk of a cultural faux pas if they fail to understand cultural norms and adjust their bereavement policies accordingly.
Some cultures put on lavish funerals, like New Orleans jazz funerals (US) and the practice of building elaborate coffins in Ghana. Other cultures, like Japan, suppress grief, discouraging public displays of mourning and memorial services outside of cultural traditions.
Bereavement policies need to consider both regulatory and cultural compliance.
Plus, in most cultures, generous bereavement policies do more good than bad. For example, the well-known social media platform Facebook benefited from significant goodwill in 2017 when they announced a new bereavement policy that would provide up to 20 days for the loss of an immediate family member. Facebook also provides 10 days for the death of an extended family member.
What to consider when creating a global bereavement policy
Your bereavement policy is an opportunity to show compassion to your employees, earning their trust and keeping them engaged and productive. But things can get complicated, and there will always be employees who may try to bend the rules.
We suggest that you cover your bases with a policy that specifically outlines for whom and for how long bereavement leave is available.
Length: Define the maximum number of days allowed per occurrence. The duration of leave may be dependent on the relationship, travel necessity or some other need identified by your company policy.
Who: Identify which employees in your company may take bereavement leave under the policy. You may choose to include regular, full-time employees, all employees, contract employees, union employees, etc.
Eligibility: Define relational requirements for bereavement. For example, which family members qualify, and will you designate different durations for different relationships? It’s common to provide longer leave for immediate family members like parents, siblings, children and spouses.
Compensation: Stipulate how employees are to be compensated during bereavement leave. The most common arrangements are fully unpaid or paid based on the employee’s typical salary.
Requirements: Identify any additional requirements to justify the bereavement leave. Although less common, some employers may require proof of death. This may feel a little insensitive, so many employers approach these requirements with caution.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but one thing is clear—many global employers see the value in being compassionate when it comes to bereavement leave.
A 2020 survey found that 39% of large global employers had expanded leave options in 2019. A shift towards values-driven company cultures and employee feedback is encouraging the trend, with more companies planning to expand their policies in 2021 and 2022.
Other leave considerations for employers
Keep in mind that when your employees take bereavement, they are grieving a loss. Although your policy has an expiration date, there is no timetable on grief. It is important to check in with employees when they return to work and provide access to additional support as needed.
Other types of leave may be available to extend time off for employees who are emotionally unable to return to work. Some companies also provide employee assistance programs that can provide grief counseling. Or may choose to accommodate special needs on a case-by-case basis.
How we grieve death varies, but we all grieve. Legal mandates for bereavement policies are less common, leaving the details up to company policy. This means that global employers need to practice a little extra sensitivity regarding bereavement policies to ensure they don’t infringe on cultural expectations.
At the end of the day, providing time off to grieve a death can benefit both employers and employees. Employees get time away from their duties at work to deal with the death of a loved one, and employers benefit from a compassionate policy that fosters productivity and loyalty.