Why We Need Bereavement Policies That Make More Sense

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Grab your company’s Employee Handbook and take a look at the Bereavement Leave policy. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

It probably starts out by stating how the organization feels it’s important to recognize the need for employees to take time off in the event of the death of a family member. So far so good, right?

Then, does it go on to say exactly how much paid leave can be used for the death of a family member based the employee’s relationship with them?

For instance, “Employees will receive [insert number] days for an immediate family member and [insert number] days for another type of relative or family member.” As you read on you’ll learn how the company defines family members.

Too many policies have too little flexibility

Perhaps the policy includes a list of relatives as an example to define “immediate” family and another list for “other” family members. For instance, an immediate family member might include: “spouse or significant other, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, stepparents and siblings, and so on.” Another relative not considered immediate family might be listed as: “aunt, uncle, cousin, other relative, step-relative, and so on.

Here’s where my struggle lies: What about the employee who was raised by their aunt — who was like a mother to him or her? Not only should the employee have time to grieve but they might also be responsible for making the final arrangements for their beloved aunt.

What about the relative who lived out of town? If it’s not an immediate family member, the employee may only get 1 day of leave for the funeral. Sure there are companies that allow employees to use other paid time off (vacation, personal days, etc.) to supplement time away from work but do we really have to take it to the point of assembling a calendar time off grid so that payroll doesn’t get confused?

Giving help to work through a difficult time

What about the employee who doesn’t have enough paid time off to use as a supplement to the time allowed?

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I recognize the need for guidelines for paid time off but this is an issue of being human. I don’t agree with companies mandating how much paid time an employee should receive for the death of a family member.

Let’s allow employees to work through a difficult and unexpected time in the least stressful way possible. Why can’t we remove policies like these and allow the time off to be handled between the employee and his or her manager?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

This was originally published on Kimberly Patterson’s Unconventional HR blog.

Kimberly Patterson is the founder of Unconventional HR. An HR pro turned consultant, she has 25 years of progressive experience as a strategic HR and business leader in a variety of industries. Her hands-on and innovative approach allows her to create and deliver HR solutions to meet business challenges and needs by managing human capital, talent acquisition and technology. Connect with her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kimberly_patt, or at kim@unconventionalhr.com .


3 Comments on “Why We Need Bereavement Policies That Make More Sense

  1. Hi Kim:

    I hear what you’re saying, I really do, and I agree that companies could do a better job here. As I wrote on my blog, http://crystalspraggins.blogspot.com/2012/12/grief.html, the workplace does not deal very well with grief.

    That said, the line has got to be drawn somewhere for companies to function well and fairly. I once had an employee tell me that leave should be granted based on the location of the funeral, and I gotta say, this struck me as ridiculous. Companies can’t do this without asking for trouble.

    I lost my mother a few years ago, so I understand this issue from both sides, believe me, which is why I can say with confidence that there IS no amount of time a company can give that will make everything better or address every need. My mother’s estate was modest, but I’ve known people who’ve needed to address a parent’s affairs for months after the parent’s passing.

    Yes, we can do better. But companies that try and fix the unfixable will find out fairly quickly that no good deed goes unpunished.

    1. Hi there Crystal,

      Thanks for your response. I do agree with you on both points. Companies can do better with these issues and there will be folks who abuse companies who are trying to do the right thing. In my not so humble opinion, I think it goes back to handling these gray areas on a case by case basis and without leaning on the “we have to be consistent” mantra.

      Not sure this is something that will ever be fixed but if managers and leaders remain human and empathetic without applying rigid policies to humans, we can get close.

      Thanks for your comment and for sharing the link to your post. I’ll check it out!

  2. I know this post is several years old; I found it while researching for a post I want to write soon on my blog. Having said that, the situation appears to be the same as it was when you wrote this post.

    The thing that gets me the most is that most companies give you 3 days of paid berievement for the death of an immediate family member. I completely understand that business must go on after such an event. However, I find it darkly amusing that 3 days is deemed acceptable. Paid berievement should last longer- a lot longer, and here’s why.

    In many (perhaps most) cases, the immediate psychological trauma of the death severely limits someone’s ability to think. Take my own case for example: my first wife died about 5 years ago when I was 34. For the first week I had literally no thought process whatsoever. I knew if it was light or dark outside, and I knew if I had bathroom urges, but that was it. My mother-in-law had to keep me fed because I had forgotten that eating was a thing. I tried to go out, but I caught myself stopping at green lights and getting hopelessly lost in areas that were very familiar to me.

    It took me about 6 months to fully regain my intellectual abilities. I attribute the quick improvement to the fact that I spent the first month after my wife died doing nothing but fully embracing my new normal. The morning of her death, I called my manager and told him that I’d be back eventually, but I had no idea when. Thankfully I had enough tenure at the company that I had a full month of vacation time, because I used all of that time.

    Of course, some people chose to escape their trauma by going to work and overworking themselves. The thought is that if they are constantly working, the pain from the trauma won’t have any space to seep in. The problem is that this is not sustainable. Everybody grieves differently but the trauma WILL catch you, it’s just a matter of when. There will be some point when that person is simply not effective at doing his or her job (perhaps due to a mental breakdown); it’s better to have some small iota of control over this circumstance rather than to attempt to bury it and then have it rear it’s ugly head some time down the line.

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