When an employee experiences a death in the family, they may ask for time off to make funeral arrangements, attend the funeral or other services, and/or to grieve the individual who has passed away. Are employers required to grant the request? We answer this and other frequently asked questions about bereavement leave below.
Q: Are employers required to provide bereavement leave?
A: Some states require certain employers to provide bereavement leave. Here are some examples.
Bereavement leave requirements
Effective January 1, 2023, California requires employers with five or more employees to offer up to five days of bereavement leave for the death of a family member. Unless the employer has an existing paid bereavement leave policy, the leave provided under law may be unpaid, but employees are entitled to use accrued sick leave or other paid time off for this purpose.
The state requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to two weeks of unpaid bereavement leave for employees who experience a death in the family. Notably, this law was expanded this year to cover more family members and more situations. Covered employers should ensure that their policies and practices align with the amended law.
Under the Maryland Flexible Leave Act, employers that have 15 or more employees and provide paid leave must allow an employee to use the leave after the death of a child, spouse or parent. Employers that don’t provide paid leave aren’t covered by the requirement.
Under the Oregon Family Leave Act, employers that have 25 or more employees must provide at least two weeks of unpaid bereavement leave for the death of a family member. While the state has a paid family leave program, bereavement leave isn’t covered by it.
Under the state of Washington’s paid family leave law, almost all employees are entitled to up to seven days of wage replacement benefits after the death of a child, if the employee would have qualified for medical leave for the birth of the child or family leave to bond with the child after birth, adoption or foster placement. Employees may also be entitled to job protection, if the employer has 50 or more employees.
If you are covered by a state bereavement leave requirement, make sure your policy and practices align with state law. Absent a state requirement, employers generally have broad discretion to decide whether, and to what extent, to offer bereavement leave.
Note: A few states have laws that entitle employees to paid time off for any reason, including the death of a family member. For example, effective January 1, 2024, employees in Illinois are entitled to accrue up to 40 hours of paid leave that they can use for any reason, upon written or oral request. Employees aren’t required to provide a reason for the leave, and employers are prohibited from requiring them to provide documentation or certification in support of the leave. States with similar laws include Maine (employers with more than 10 employees) and Nevada (employers with 50 or more employees).
Q: If I want to offer bereavement leave voluntarily, how much should I offer?
A: Absent a state requirement, it is up to you. Employers that voluntarily offer bereavement leave typically provide at least three days. In your policy, be sure to also indicate whether the allotment is per year or per death in the family.
Q: Can I limit bereavement leave eligibility to full-time employees or to employees who have worked for a certain length of time?
A: If you are subject to a state bereavement leave requirement, the state law will typically include eligibility rules. Check your state law for details. Your policy should align with applicable rules. In situations where bereavement leave isn’t required, employers may set their own eligibility rules, such as limiting bereavement leave to full-time employees and/or requiring new hires to work a certain length of time (e.g., 90 days or six months) before becoming eligible for bereavement leave. In either case, eligibility rules should be clearly stated in the policy.
Q: Does bereavement leave apply when a friend dies, or just when there’s a death of a family member?
A: The state laws requiring bereavement leave typically apply only to the death of the employee’s “family member” (as defined by the law). Even when employers offer bereavement leave voluntarily, many limit use to deaths in the family, but their definition of “family” can also vary. In either case, your policy should clearly define what situations are covered by the policy.
Q: If I offer bereavement leave voluntarily, can it be unpaid?
A: Employers that offer bereavement leave voluntarily may choose to offer it as unpaid leave. However, many of these employers will allow employees the option of using other paid leave during bereavement-related absences. Your written policy should address how pay will be handled during bereavement leave.
Note: Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, deductions from an exempt employee's salary are permitted in very limited circumstances. One of them is when the employee is absent for one or more full days for personal reasons other than sickness or disability, such as attending a family member’s funeral.
Q: Can I ask for documentation that the employee’s absence was covered by our bereavement leave policy?
A: States that require bereavement leave typically address what, if any, documentation may be required. For example, in California, an employer may request that an employee provide documentation of the death of the family member. If requested by the employer, the employee must provide it within 30 days of the first day of the leave. Under the law, “documentation” includes, but isn’t limited to: a death certificate, a published obituary, or a written verification of death, burial or memorial services from a mortuary, funeral home, burial society, crematorium, religious institution or governmental agency. Check your state law for details.
In situations where a state bereavement leave requirement wouldn’t apply, you may ask for reasonable documentation that the leave was taken for a covered reason. Any documentation requirements and deadlines for meeting them should be clearly stated in your policy.
Whether you are required to offer bereavement leave or choose to do so voluntarily, make sure you have a clear written policy, and train supervisors on how to apply it.
A growing number of state and local jurisdictions provide wage replacement benefits to employees when they take time off from work for certain family or medical reasons. These paid family and medical leave (PFL) programs typically impose certain requirements on employers. Here are five key facts about PFL programs.