Losing a loved one can strike anyone at any time. As such, businesses of all shapes and sizes have employees who have friends or family pass away. When this happens it leads to a number of situations where an employee will need some time off from work: to attend a funeral, to arrange a funeral, to execute a will, time to cope with the loss, etc.

Currently there are no federal laws that require employers to provide employees either paid or unpaid bereavement leave. Also, only one state (Oregon, effective 2014) has passed a law requiring employers to provide bereavement leave. So what is the most common way companies handle bereavement time off? See below for a plan that many businesses nationwide have used related to bereavement time off.

Everything flows from having a bereavement policy so that everyone knows what to expect and the odds are greater that everyone will feel like they are being treated to the same standard. The first thing this policy will do is clarify whether a company sets aside time off specifically for bereavement, and if so, how much time and whether it is paid or not. Even if a company does not set aside bereavement time off, because for example the company believes it gives a generous amount of vacation time that employees should use for bereavement, it would not hurt to spell that out in a bereavement policy to avoid confusion. As with any policy, it is important for businesses to make it thorough, make sure it is easy to understand, make it easily accessible, and regularly update the policy to prevent it from becoming outdated.

Another key part of any good bereavement policy is making it explicit for whom the policy can be used because family dynamics, structures, and cultures vary widely. Some “strict” bereavement policies are only available when employees lose a parent, sibling, or child, while more “lenient” bereavement policies include aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents-in-law. And even though a lot can happen fast when a loved one passes away, it is helpful for a company to know ahead of time that an employee will be out of the office on bereavement leave, instead of after the fact. So like any other type of leave, it is helpful to include in the policy the process for employees to notify the company that they need to use bereavement leave. Lastly, to prevent the abuse of bereavement leave, some companies require employees to provide some sort of documentation when they return from bereavement leave, such as an obituary, funeral program, or just a short written summary of the deceased (relationship, city/state of residence, date of death, etc). This is especially helpful for larger companies where everyone does not know everyone or their relatives.