What is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave is an essential provision within human resources management, designed to support employees during one of life’s most challenging times—the death of a loved one. This type of leave allows employees to take time off work to grieve, make funeral arrangements, and attend memorial services without the stress of work obligations.

Definition and Purpose

Bereavement leave, also referred to as compassionate leave, grants employees a specific amount of time off following the death of an immediate family member, such as a spouse, child, parent, in-law, or domestic partner. In some cases, this policy extends to extended family members, step-children, step-parents, foster children, and even close friends or coworkers.

Policy and Eligibility

The bereavement leave policy detailed in an employee handbook typically specifies the number of days of leave granted, which can vary from a few days to a week. The policy usually outlines eligibility requirements and whether the leave is paid or unpaid. Unlike sick leave or medical leave act provisions, bereavement leave is generally shorter and specifically intended for grief and funeral-related purposes.

Paid vs. Unpaid Leave

While there is no federal law mandating bereavement leave, many employers choose to offer paid leave as part of their employee benefits package. In situations where paid leave is not available, employees may use PTO (paid time off) or take unpaid leave. Unpaid bereavement leave is more common among smaller companies or in states without specific leave laws on bereavement.

State Laws and Variations

Certain states, such as Oregon, Illinois, and California, have enacted laws requiring employers to provide bereavement leave. For example, Oregon mandates up to two weeks of leave, while Illinois allows up to 10 workdays of leave upon the death of a child. Each state specifies the eligible employees and conditions under these laws.

Company Policies and Additional Time

Company’s policy may vary significantly. Some companies might offer additional time off or flexible arrangements as part of a broader focus on employee well-being. These policies are often negotiated through collective bargaining agreements in unionized workplaces.

FAQs About Bereavement Leave

  • How many days of bereavement leave are typical? Typically, companies offer three to five days for the death of an immediate family member. This period may be extended for travel or additional funeral rituals.
  • Is a death certificate required to take bereavement leave? Employers may require a death certificate or other proof of death to grant the leave, especially if the leave is paid.
  • Can bereavement leave be taken for non-family members? Some policies include time off for the death of a close friend or significant coworker, though this is less common and often at the discretion of the employer.
  • How does bereavement leave interact with other types of leave? Bereavement leave is generally separate from FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) and other types of leave, serving a specific purpose related to grief and loss.


Bereavement leave is a crucial aspect of employment that supports grieving employees during difficult times. By allowing time away from work, employers show compassion and understanding, which can significantly affect employee morale and loyalty. As societal attitudes towards grief and mental health continue to evolve, bereavement leave policies may become more common and generous, reflecting a growing recognition of their importance to overall employee well-being.

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