When an employee experiences a death in the family, they may ask for time off to make funeral arrangements, attend the funeral or other services, and/or time to grieve the individual who has passed away.

Are employers required to grant the request? We answer this and other frequently asked questions about bereavement leave below.

Under the Maryland Flexible Leave Act, employers that have 15 or more employees and provide paid leave must allow an employee to use the leave after the death of a child (In Maryland, this includes biological, adopted, foster, step or legal guardian), spouse, or parent.

Q: If I want to offer bereavement leave voluntarily, how much should I offer?

A: Absent a state requirement, it is up to you. Employers that voluntarily offer bereavement leave typically provide at least three days. In your policy, be sure to also indicate whether the allotment is per year or per death in the family.

Q:  May I limit bereavement leave eligibility to full-time employees or to employees who have worked for a certain length of time?

A: If you are subject to a state bereavement leave requirement, the state law will typically include eligibility rules. Check your state law for details. Your policy should align with applicable rules. Eligibility rules should be clearly stated in the policy.

Q:  Does bereavement leave apply when a friend dies, or just when there’s a death of a family member?

A: Some policies cover only immediate family members, while others include extended relatives, close friends, other members of a household, etc. Times and dynamics have changed, and modernized, and the definition of “family” and who is considered close to that employee, or is part of their family or household, has broadened. In either case, your policy should clearly define what situations are covered by the policy.

Q: If I offer bereavement leave voluntarily, can it be unpaid?

A:  Employers that offer bereavement leave voluntarily may choose to offer it as unpaid leave. However, many of these employers will allow employees the option of using their PTO or other paid leave during bereavement-related absences. Your written policy should address how pay will be handled during bereavement leave.

Q: Can I ask for documentation that the employee’s absence was covered by our bereavement leave policy?

A:   The employer may decide to ask for documentation. There is a level of trust as it pertains to bereavement leave and determining its validity. Asking for documentation is allowed, however, it is not something that most employers seek. If you feel compelled to ask for documentation due to an employee who has recent, documented absenteeism issues, consider asking for something simple such as a copy of the obituary. Having a clearly defined policy helps avoid complications.

Important things to consider:

– Planning and attending funerals or making arrangements can be stressful and take a lot of time. Consider flexibility with schedules allowing employees to work remotely, reduced hours or a different schedule as they attend to family demands.

– Recognize that every employee processes grief differently and may have unique needs as they manage loss. As their employer, emphasis on paying attention to their mental health goes a long way toward healing.

– If the company offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which may include grief counseling, consider reminding employees of this and how to access it, and mention this in your bereavement policy that these services are available to them.

Whether you are required to offer bereavement leave or choose to do so voluntarily, make sure you have a clearly written, detailed policy, and train supervisors on how to apply it. If you need help interpreting state law, or creating a bereavement leave policy, consult your HR professional.

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