Dealing with Bereavement in the Workplace
There are few things as difficult for a manager as dealing with a grieving employee. Whether they’ve lost a parent, spouse, partner, or child, an employee who has said good-bye to someone precious may shift their focus from work-related issues to dealing with their loss.
Handling employee bereavement issues with sensitivity
You will need to be sensitive as you decide how to let coworkers know about the loss, when and how to maintain contact with your employee while they are out, whether to send food, flowers or another expression of sympathy and whether to attend the funeral or send another employee to represent the business.
Defining funeral leave policies
You will also need to deal with the concept of funeral leave. Funeral leave, also called bereavement leave, is not mandated by federal law, but may be required by your state, or by a company policy or tradition.
Even in a small company, it’s a good idea to define a funeral leave policy before an employee actually needs funeral leave. As a part of that policy, you’ll need to determine:
- Existing state and local laws - Are there any state, local, industry or company policies on funeral leave as a special or protected kind of employee absence?
- Employee eligibility requirements – Is funeral leave available for all employees, only full time employees, or only certain categories of employees?
- Is this kind of employee absence paid or unpaid?
- Are employees permitted (or required) to use paid sick leave or vacation time, if your company offers paid leave?
- What is the duration of standard funeral leave? Does it vary by relationship level (i.e. more for a child or parent than a member of the extended family?)
- Must the deceased be an “immediate family member” (and how that term is defined?)
- Is verification of the reason for the employee’s absence is required and, if so, which forms of verification are acceptable?
- Is there a way to deal with funerals that are far from the employee’s home, where travel time might use up the entire standard leave?
- Is documentation that there terminal family member and that death is imminent sufficient to invoke bereavement leave, even if the family member has not yet passed away?
- Does your attendance tracking system allow you to record this type of leave so it will not affect performance ratings or count towards warnings for employee attendance problems?
When an employee returns to work after taking funeral leave, be supportive if he or she is having a difficult time coping with the loss. Consider temporary modifications of responsibilities or additional time off if it is warranted under the circumstances. Let the employee know you have an open door policy, if they need to talk.
If you do vary from your standard funeral leave policy and allow the more excused or paid employee absences, be sure to note the reasons for this in the employee file or your own records, in case a change of discrimination or favoritism is ever filed. And when writing or refining funeral leave policies, keep in mind that requirements like notice or filling out advance requests for employee leave are not reasonable in this circumstance.