How To Ask For Bereavement Leave?

How To Ask For Bereavement Leave

One of the most unfortunate and tragic moments in everyone’s life is when their loved one leaves this world. One needs a substantial amount of time to mentally process the suffered loss and grieve at one’s comfort. Moreover, it requires ample time and effort to make arrangements for the funeral services. All of this simply means that one would have to take some time off from work. Thus, bereavement leave enters the picture. It is basically a paid (sometimes unpaid) temporary leave given to an employee following a serious illness or death of a family member or a friend. It generally includes a time off of three days though many organizations are flexible in this regard. Today’s article- How To Ask For Bereavement Leave?

Every company has a special provision of bereavement leave policy in its code of conduct wherein paid and unpaid leaves are offered to the grieving employee. While every organization strives hard to make an effort to sort things out with the concerned employees during such emotionally overwhelming times, you must set realistic expectations in terms of bereavement leave days and bereavement pay. Several queries are likely to pop up in your mind: How do I know if my employer offers bereavement leave? On what occasions can I request such a leave? What is the proper way of requesting time off while you are still struggling with the death of a loved one? This article would definitely assist you in finding out the most appropriate way of asking for bereavement leave along with clear-cut steps and a few fallback measures.

Who Is Recognized As A ‘Family Member’?

In terms of bereavement leave, there isn’t any specific definition as to what qualifies as ‘family’.  While family bereavement or a close relative’s death is the most common reason for granting bereavement leaves, almost all of the major companies include the following relations as constituting under the term ‘family member’ namely: 

  • Your parents, including biological parents, stepparents, foster parents, adoptive parents, and legal guardians along with father-in-law and mother-in-law
  • Your siblings
  • Your spouse, civil partner, and domestic partner
  • Your children, step-children and adoptive children
  • Your grandparents 
  • Your grandchildren

NOTE: Some companies also offer bereavement leave to employees after the loss of their extended family member or a close friend.

While larger companies already have their typical bereavement leave policies, smaller and medium-firm determine the bereavement leave requirements of their employees by co-operating with them on a case-by-case basis.

Could You Take Bereavement Leave After The Loss Of a Pregnancy?

Unsurprisingly, some employers even count miscarriage in their bereavement leave policies. However, if your firm does not have such a provision you can use the National Partnership for Women & Families according to which “a pregnant woman can choose to take an FMLA leave for incapacity given her serious pregnancy-related health conditions (such as miscarriage in this case).”

The employee has additional rights to leave under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act if the bereavement is related to miscarriage. Along with the state and/or local laws requiring accommodation of pregnant employees, they could give the right to the employee to take some time off of work in order to recover from the loss including postpartum depression.

How Long Is The Bereavement Leave Period?

Contrary to popular assumption, the bereavement leave period is generally not long enough. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) surveyed over 2,500 HR professionals about their company’s leave policies in the year 2016 and the following were its findings:

  • Around four days are granted after the death of a spouse or child as bereavement leave.
  • Around three days are given as bereavement leave after the demise of a parent, sibling, domestic partner, foster child, grandparent, or grandchild.
  • As same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States only in June 2015, the survey findings indicate that some of the firms might have probably been refusing even a day of bereavement leave particularly to the employees who are in same-sex partnerships. This is evident by the fact that an average of two days’ leave is offered after the death of a relative of an opposite-sex partner. However, only a single day of bereavement is granted in case the relative of a same-sex partner passes away.
  • Just two days are granted as a bereavement leave after the demise of an extended family member or a spouse’s relative.
  • In case of a miscarriage, employees are granted an average of only two days as a bereavement period.
  • Most organizations don’t offer any sort of bereavement leave post the death of a coworker or friend.

Are Employers Legally Obligated to Grant Bereavement Leave?

Although employers are not legally bound to give bereavement leave to their employees on a federal level, certain states do. However, there is no federal law as such in the United States that guarantees employees of either paid or unpaid bereavement leave from their employers.

As per the guidelines laid down by the U.S. Department of Labor, “The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment for time not worked, including attending a funeral. This type of benefit is generally a matter of agreement between an employer and an employee.”

Following are some examples of the states that mandate bereavement leaves for employees:

  • Oregon– The Beaver State has a pretty extensive bereavement leave law that makes it mandatory for companies with 25+ employees to grant unpaid bereavement leave to them. 
  • Illinois– The Prairie State authorizes an unpaid bereavement leave of up to ten days following the loss of a child.
  • Washington– The state of Washington requires state employers (and not private employers) to provide leave up to three days.

NOTE: Many businesses (around 88% as per the 2018 employee benefits report by the Society for Human Resources Management) willingly choose to grant paid bereavement leave to their employees without being compelled by either federal or state law. 

Why Is Bereavement Leave So Important?

During the loss of a loved one, you would have to maintain a balance between prioritizing your physical and mental health along with loads of tasks at hand such as making and handling arrangements for the funeral ceremony, notifying and gathering family members, executing wills, and settling estates.

One might wonder why should employers offer bereavement leave to the ones who need it. Well, it goes unsaid that if proper time and space are not provided for properly processing your inner thoughts and feelings, grief could lead to several symptoms such as missing days of work, decreased productivity, lapses in decision-making, and judgment along with other issues like acute depression and apathy.

The market research consultancy Savanta ComRes conducted a recent survey for the National Council for Palliative Care and Dying Matters which indicated that over 50% of respondents considered leaving jobs if their employer didn’t offer proper bereavement support. Moreover, according to the same survey, nearly one-third of the recently grieving respondents were of the opinion that their employers didn’t treat them with enough compassion and empathy.

Suggestive Plan of Action

  1. Emotional Preparation Prior To Leave Request

It is absolutely natural and normal to experience triggering of extreme emotional reaction when your loved one leaves for the heavenly abode. This is what makes us all human. However, at the same time, you will find it pretty difficult to clearly state your needs to your employer (or anyone for that matter) while you are feeling these emotions. Therefore, it is recommended to first calmly make up your mind and take some time to prepare before you go to request bereavement leave. It is very necessary to be in the right frame of mind before making such a request at your workplace. 

If you do not seem to be in the right mental space, it is always advisable to let others help you out. For instance, if you feel that your letter or email is not articulated properly, you should consider asking a trusted coworker, friend, or family member to check it. 

  1. Informing Your Employer As Early As Possible 

If the doctor has told you about the anticipation of the tragic fate of your close one or your loved one is undergoing life-threatening health issues, then you would want to openly discuss the ongoing situation with your employer. This would naturally give them time to prepare for the possibility that you may shortly take bereavement leave from work. 

Your company may also give you some time off to visit your loved ones and care for them if their health is seriously worsening. Some may even grant you paid vacation time or arrange for temporary remote work, particularly if you live far off from your family. Thus, it is always beneficial to notify your employer about the situation at home as early as possible.

  1. Knowing Your Company’s Bereavement Leave Policy

You might not realize how much emotional preparation would help you in determining how to ask for bereavement leave from your employer. It even lends you time to address some of the important details that you could have easily neglected if you had sent your request before emotionally preparing yourself. 

While different organizations consist of different bereavement policies, you must familiarize yourself with your employer’s policy so that you will feel much more comfortable. Furthermore, you may choose to include certain phrases or terms from your company’s bereavement leave policy by citing them in your letter.

Therefore, you must ascertain beforehand whether your company gives paid bereavement leave and how long does the leave period last. You must also clarify in advance whether your company will deduct it from your paid vacation days as well as whether your bereavement leave is different from your regular leave entitlements. In order to minimize financial stress, one always prefers a paid vacation period rather than unpaid bereavement leave.

However, there are certain following practices commonly adopted by many companies:

  • Only a selected number of employees qualify for paid leave. 
  • Only full-time employees are offered paid bereavement leave. 
  • Although paid bereavement leave is not granted to the part-time workers, independent contractors, and newly hired employees, they could still get unpaid ones.

Moreover, you must also check if your company asks for the submission of documents like funeral programs after you return to work. If your company does demand them, then it is advisable to bring it to the cognizance of your manager/boss in case you are not attending the funeral ceremony.

Also, one must keep in mind to discuss the circumstances at your home with your human resources department or any other supervisor to learn how to proceed further in case the company’s handbook does not lay down bereavement leave terms. 

  1. Asking Specific Questions

Well, to put delicately, it is not a cakewalk to quickly get bereavement leave from your employer. You may still face some challenges. It is pretty common to not know exactly how much time you would need to attain psychological and emotional stability after your loved one passes away. However, you would have to a somewhat rough assumption regarding how much leave you’ll need as your employer needs to know after how many days you would be back to work.

Therefore, you can consult with others to offer a reasonable and realistic timeline for your bereavement leave. For instance, if you feel comfortable discussing it, you could ask one of your coworkers how much time they took off when they had taken bereavement leave in the past. Otherwise, you can always confer with HR representatives and/pr relevant supervisors so as to get a better idea of how much time a typical employee takes off from work during the bereavement leave period.

It is always recommended to ask to the point questions to get a holistic idea about what your bereavement leave implicates as far as the pay goes. Following are some examples for the same:

  • Is my bereavement leave period paid? If so, for how long?
  • Does my paid leave deduct from my paid time off (sick days, vacation days, and personal days)?
  • What sorts of forms do I have to fill so as to ensure that my bereavement leave is paid?
  1. Choosing Your Preferred Method of communication

Your method of requesting a bereavement leave depends on the inherent nature of your company. On one hand, sending a physical letter seems to be the best option at some companies, on the other hand, a lot of companies easily accept bereavement leave requests via email. 

Irrespective of the manner you choose, your leave request should be in some form of writing along with proper documentation.

  1. Writing The First Draft Of Your Letter/Email

It is highly advisable to prepare a first draft of the bereavement leave request before officially sending any sort of letter or email. Writing an early draft ensures that the final one would not contain errors or unnecessary details or miss out on the relevant information. These could lead to undesirable repercussions. For instance, if you do not clearly describe the timeline for your bereavement leave and returning to work, you might not get as much time off of work as you would have wanted.

So, write that first draft, keep it polite and formal, ask trusted individuals to check it, and send it to your HR department or your supervisor. Afterward, your employer would most likely ask you to include the following details along with your request:

  • The name of your loved one
  • The date and/or place of their passing 
  • The relationship you had with them
  • How many days do you wish to take as your bereavement leave
  • Whether you want to this time off as a paid vacation period
  • The date when you are planning to come back to work
  • Whether you have made any sort of arrangement with your fellow employees to take on your responsibilities and duties while you are absent
  • Whether you would be available via phone or email for talking about work-related matters while you are on the bereavement leave
  • Your commitment level to your company as well as that to your job
  • Your expression of gratitude for your employer’s understanding and empathy during this unfortunate time
  1. Reviewing, Modifying, And Sending The Letter/Email

While reviewing the first draft of your bereavement leave request letter, you should not only rectify the grammatical and punctuation mistakes but also thoroughly include every relevant piece of information in a clear manner. Furthermore, you must ensure to keep the tone of your letter very professional and formal for this type of request as one might easily get carried away due to overwhelming emotions of grief and misery.

Before submitting your formal business letter/email to request bereavement leave from your employer, you must cross-check the following aspects: 

  • You must be personally satisfied with every aspect of the letter
  • You have a fair knowledge of the company’s bereavement leave request policies
  • You have selected the proper method for submitting a bereavement leave request

You should then follow up with the people you have contacted in case you have not heard back from them after a reasonable time frame. And later on, ideally, you should acknowledge that you have received their response. Then, you are ready for the further process that your company’s policies dictate.

  1. Supplying Relevant Documentation

More often than not companies ask their workers to provide certain documentation including obituaries and travel documents in order to support their bereavement leave request. Supplying these required documents ensures that your company would eventually offer you bereavement leave without any delay.

Most of the companies also make their employees sign certain forms to ascertain that

they are paid for their bereavement leave. You can feel free to ask whether your employer has these forms, and you should also return them promptly after filling them for quick processing.

  1. Preparing Workplace Notes For Colleagues

Afraid of portraying a bad impression upon your employer while planning for bereavement leave? Don’t worry. It is advised that you should leave some sort of notes about your existing work-related responsibilities to help your colleagues in managing and administering your duties while you are not present. If it is possible, you should arrange for a coworker who is willing to unburden and help with your workload. You can always attach your contact details along with these notes if you think that you would be available to answer their inquiries during your bereavement leave.

  1. Using The FMLA For Bereavement Leave Request

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is not something that professionals might not have heard before. The FMLA is specifically devised for helping employees to get the additional days of leave while they are amidst some serious circumstances such as caring for a close family member who is ill or recovering from the trauma of miscarriage. FMLA allows for 12 weeks of unpaid yet job-protected leave.

However, in order to qualify for the FMLA:

  • One must work for at least 12 months at their company 
  • The company must have consist of more than 50 employees working within a 75-mile radius of the main workplace. 

Additionally, the eligible companies include:

  • Public agencies
  • Public and private schools
  • Companies with 50+ employees

The FMLA is also for the bereaved employees who are in need of grief counseling sessions or who are undergoing a serious health condition because of the passing of their loved one. Moreover, as per the FMLA guidelines, employers are legally obliged to cover their employee’s health benefits during the 12 weeks off paying them is not mandatory.

Example Of A Bereavement Leave Request

One can make use of the following letter/email body as a template for requesting bereavement leave:

Dear/Respected [Supervisor’s Name],

I am hereby writing this letter/email to formally request a period of bereavement leave. My mother, (Her Name), passed away last night in [Location]. I’d like to sincerely request a bereavement leave as I have to return to my hometown and make funerary arrangements beginning from (Start Date) through (End Date). I will have to/will not (whichever the case) need to take additional time off as paid vacation.

I remain dedicated to my position as (Your Position) and assure you that I would do my best to accomplish the projects/deadline on which I’m working before then. My colleague (His/Her Name)has agreed to handle my day-to-day responsibilities/assignments/tasks/duties while I’m gone. In case you need to reach me while I’m away, you could simply send an email to (Your Email Address) or text my cell phone at (Your Contact Number).

I’m grateful for your understanding during such an unfortunate time.

Kind regards,

John Smith

Add today’s date and your contact information in case you are sending a letter. 

(Emails don’t require these details)

How To Ask For Bereavement Leave?

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