Bereavement Leave 101

Jul 01, 2015

Did you see the article entitled “Lack of regulation leads to varying bereavement leave policies” in the June 20, 2015 edition of the Cedar Rapids Gazette? I was quoted in the article. Gazette reporter Maddy Arnold wrote about the fact that identical bills to amend the Family and Medical Leave Act to include the Parental Bereavement Act of 2015 were introduced in both houses of Congress in May, 2015. That Act would permit employees to take up to twelve work weeks of leave within twelve months of the death of a son or daughter. Online prognosis of the chance this legislation would be enacted: “0%.” There’s a Facebook page dedicated to this initiative “created by two grieving dads who simply want the option of 12 weeks of unpaid time off work when one loses a child.” Check out

Currently, there are no laws requiring employers to provide bereavement leave. What is it you ask? Basically, it is a paid leave of absence from work because someone close to you died. Many employers have added bereavement leave to their “funeral leave” policies, some have replaced “funeral leave” altogether with bereavement leave. Some employers stick to a traditional, three-day leave for the funeral of a close or immediate family member. Some have changed their sick leave policies to permit an employee to use a certain amount of sick leave each year for bereavement, including making arrangements for and attending memorial or funeral services. Different employers handle this in a myriad of ways.

My advice as an employment lawyer is to ensure your policies are in writing so there are clear guidelines on employee leave entitlement. And, as I said in the Gazette article, it is perfectly acceptable to have some flexibility built in to the policy—like permitting the direct supervisors or HR to decide how much leave to grant and when. However, you must have some consistency when you are handing out bereavement leave in cases of similarly situated employees. For example, if a supervisor in one department gives one employee three days off for the death of a parent who lives locally, then that should be the standard from which the supervisor operates for other employees in the same department who are dealing with the death of a parent who lives locally. Treating similarly situated employees in similar circumstances differently increases the risk of a discrimination or retaliation claim. Meaning, the employee who is treated differently without legitimate explanation may be left thinking they received less bereavement leave because of their gender, their race, their sexual orientation, or because they just returned from a workers’ compensation leave.

If you have questions about employee leave policies or other employment law matters, please contact Amy L. Reasner at or 319-365-9101.

Category: Employment Law

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