How Your Bereavement Policy Can Align Company Values With Employee Needs

The importance of demonstrating company values

The immense toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on bereavement leave. Many companies are updating their policies to acknowledge the physical and emotional impact of grief on employee well-being.

Recent changes to bereavement policies have largely stemmed from a greater understanding of loss and a desire to do the right thing. But an empathetic bereavement policy can also improve your work culture and retention rates.
Left untreated, grief can lead to anxiety, depression, anger and unhealthy behaviors that hinder employee well-being. Asking employees to use vacation time to attend a funeral or deal with grief can further erode their health and your culture.
Increasingly, employees want to work for companies that reflect their values. More than half of employees would accept less pay to join a company that aligns with their values, according to a survey by the management company Qualtrics. And 56% would outright reject a job with an organization that displays opposing values.
Armed with this knowledge, many companies are updating their bereavement policies to help employees process their emotions and tend to their health.

Trends in bereavement leave

In the past, bereavement policies often followed a formula. Many companies offered three to five days for a parent, spouse or child, and maybe a day or two for more distant relatives.
But these policies often failed employees in two ways. First, the short duration didn’t account for the time it can take to heal while grieving. And second, they sometimes undermined the importance of the deceased to the employee. For example, employees might only get one day of leave for a grandparent, aunt or uncle who raised them, as opposed to five days for a parent they rarely saw.
Changing family dynamics and a greater understanding of grief are leading companies to move away from static bereavement policies.
Instead, the following strategies are gaining favor:

  • Reduce rigidity around the qualifications for bereavement leave. An employee’s deep emotional ties don’t always correspond to the definitions in traditional bereavement policies. Accordingly, some companies are expanding the definition of “loved ones” to include legal guardians, extended family and close friends. Some are providing bereavement leave following a miscarriage. And some are acknowledging the emotional importance of animals and providing time to employees who have lost a beloved pet.
  • Increase the number of days for bereavement leave. Grief impacts people in different ways, which is why more companies are working with employees to determine the amount of time they need. One person might want only a few days, while others might need a few weeks or more.
  • Adapt schedules or workloads to help employees return to work following the loss of a loved one.
  • Healing is an ongoing process. Instead of jumping straight back into work, ramping up can give employees the flexibility and space they need to move forward at work and at home.
  • Offer grief counseling. This may be a separate benefit or part of the mental health offerings you provide through your employee assistance program. Regardless of how it’s delivered, companies are doing more to communicate about and normalize counseling.

Some companies are even moving away from the term “bereavement” in favor of “compassionate leave.” The intent is to highlight compassion as a company value. In addition, framing your policy in an empathetic light may encourage more employees to use the leave during their journey through grief.

Further considerations for your policy

There are no federal laws regarding bereavement leave, but it has become a business best practice. If you do offer bereavement leave, you are legally required to apply benefits equitably among your employees. And you may want to benchmark industry standards to make sure your leave is competitive.
As you create or enhance your bereavement policy, answer the following questions. This can help you cover a range of important factors.

  • When are employees eligible for bereavement leave? For example, will they be allowed to take leave immediately upon hire or after a set time such as 30, 60 or 90 days? Will there be differences for full-time and part-time employees?
  • How long will leave last? Will the days be predetermined based on the relationship of the deceased? Will there be an annual limit? Or will you work with employees based on individual needs?
  • Which relationships will qualify under your policy? Common examples include spouses and partners, parents, grandparents, siblings, children, in-laws, step-relatives, and aunts and uncles. Will you include legal guardians, extended family and pets? Will the loss of a pregnancy qualify for bereavement leave? Will your policy be adaptable for employees who lose a loved one outside of these relationships?
  • Will bereavement leave be paid, unpaid or a combination of the two? For example, you could offer up to 10 days of paid leave and an additional two weeks of unpaid leave.
  • Can leave be used intermittently, or does it need to be taken all at once? A California law in effect as of Jan. 1, 2023 requires employers with five or more employees to provide five days of bereavement leave — the leave must be used within 30 days, but it does not need to be consecutive.
  • Can leave be used prior to a loved one’s death? This often comes into play with a terminal diagnosis. In that case, will an employee be given time to process the diagnosis and care for a loved one prior to their death?
  • Will you ask for proof of death, and in what form? Common practices include newspaper or online obituaries, or verification from a funeral home, religious institution or government agency. Asking for a death certificate may be too onerous and employees may consider it intrusive.
  • How will you communicate your policy and show support for employees who take it? Listing a policy in an employee handbook is common practice. But creating a culture of support that encourages employees to use this leave takes consistent communication. Channels may include emails, social media posts, intranet pages, newsletters and home mailings.

This content is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing professional, financial, medical or legal advice. You should contact your licensed professional to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Please refer to your policy contract for any specific information or questions on applicability of coverage.

Please note coverage can not be bound or a claim reported without written acknowledgment from a OneGroup Representative.

Written content in blog post: Copyright © 2022 Applied Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.