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Bereavement Leave: Understanding Its Importance and Implementing Compassionate Policies

Bereavement Leave: Understanding Its Importance and Implementing Compassionate Policies

Bereavement leave, a provision provided by many organizations worldwide, is a time-off granted to employees following the death of a loved one. This type of leave serves not only as a recognition of the profound emotional toll of loss but also acknowledges the myriad of practical responsibilities that accompany such events. Recognizing the significance of grieving for mental health and work performance, this article delves into the intricacies of bereavement leave.

Why bereavement leave is essential for employees: Physical, social and economical considerations 

The loss of a loved one is, without a doubt, one of life’s most challenging experiences. The grieving process is deeply personal, involving a spectrum of emotions, from shock and disbelief to profound sadness. While each individual’s experience with grief is unique, there are universal truths about the healing process that cannot be ignored. One of these is the need for time – time to process, to mourn, and to integrate the loss into one’s life. This is where bereavement leave becomes an essential provision in the workplace.

Physical and mental impact of grief 

Often overlooked are the physical and mental tolls of grief and bereavement. Insomnia, fatigue, cognitive impairments, and decreased immune function are just a few of the physical manifestations of mourning. Mentally, an individual might experience concentration problems, mood swings, or even depression. Expecting an employee to function at their best during this time isn’t just unrealistic; it’s unfair.

Social implications of grief 

The loss often forces individuals to redefine their social roles, especially if they’ve lost a partner, parent, or child. Such bereavement can alter family dynamics and responsibilities. Bereavement leave allows the grieving person the chance to navigate this new terrain, attending counseling sessions, support groups, or simply spending time with their family to find a new equilibrium.

Economic considerations 

The immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death often brings unexpected financial concerns, from funeral costs to estate settlements. The stress of managing these economic aspects, coupled with the emotional turmoil of bereavement, can be overwhelming. Having the time off to address these concerns can alleviate some of the stress, allowing the employee to return to work with a clearer mind.

Workplace productivity and morale 

An employee forced to work while grieving is more likely to be unproductive and might even affect the morale of their colleagues. Employers must acknowledge their pain and provide them with the necessary time to heal. These actions demonstrate an organization’s empathy and commitment to its employees’ well-being. This not only boosts the morale of the grieving employee but also sends a positive message to the entire workforce about the company’s values.

Bereavement leave, while universally understood as a compassionate provision for employees, varies significantly in its legal structure and stipulations across different nations. Given the complex weave of cultural, economic, and social considerations, legal frameworks pertaining to bereavement leave have evolved differently in each country.

Variation across regions 

Сountries within the EU often have labor laws that provide some form of bereavement leave, although the exact nature and duration vary. For instance, the residents of France are entitled to three days of bereavement leave, while their Spanish neighbors have two to four leave days to mourn their loss. Both countries have respective laws at the national level. 

In the Nordic countries, known for their progressive labor rights, bereavement leave is often more generous. Sweden, for example, has a 10-day policy in case of the death of a family member. In contrast, in some parts of Asia and Africa, formal bereavement leave may not be legislated, relying more on cultural norms and employer discretion. 

One of the primary points of differentiation in bereavement leave policies globally is whether the leave is paid or unpaid. Paid bereavement leave, as seen in countries like New Zealand (one-three leave days) and Canada (two leave days), indicates a higher level of support for the grieving employee. 

However, not all nations have the economic structure to mandate such policies, and even where they do exist, the duration of paid leave varies. For example, the USA also falls into this category, as no laws grant mandatory bereavement leave – these things should be decided by the employer and employee. What’s more, each state might have its own legislation governing bereavement leave, as it’s not covered by any federal acts. A good example of such a state is Illinois.

What is the Illinois Family Bereavement Leave Act (FBLA)?

In the midst of grief, administrative tasks like funeral planning can become overwhelming. Originating as the Child Bereavement Leave Act in 2016, Illinois expanded its scope in 2022, renaming it the Family Bereavement Leave Act. This vital legislation fills a gap left by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – the provision for bereavement leave.

The FBLA ensures that individuals in Illinois have the right to take up to two weeks, or ten working days, of unpaid leave following the death of a family member. While two weeks might not seem enough to navigate the complexities of grief, the Act acknowledges the immediate administrative burdens post-loss, such as planning or attending funerals and liaising with probate lawyers.

For those who face the heart-wrenching loss of more than one family member within a twelve-month window, the Act offers additional compassion, allowing up to six weeks of leave.

The federal FMLA offers up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for various medical and familial reasons but fails to include bereavement leave. The FBLA addresses this shortcoming specifically for Illinois residents. Notably, if someone qualifies for FMLA leave, they should also be eligible for FBLA leave, though the reasons differ.

However, it’s essential to understand the interplay between the two. While you can claim both FBLA and FMLA leaves consecutively (totaling 14 weeks in a year), if you’ve exhausted your 12-week FMLA quota, you won’t be eligible for the full two weeks of FBLA leave. On the other hand, if you’ve only used the FBLA’s two-week provision, you can still claim the entire 12 weeks under the FMLA.

Scope of ‘family’ in bereavement policies 

Another essential aspect of legal perspectives on bereavement leave is the definition of “family.” While immediate family members like spouses, children, and parents are often covered, extended family or non-traditional family structures might not be. Some countries or organizations are more inclusive, considering domestic partners, in-laws, or even close friends, as family, recognizing the diverse range of relationships that can deeply affect an individual.

Bereavement leave and accounting: An unexplored correlation

While bereavement leave is a crucial policy many organizations adopt to support employees during their times of grief, it might initially seem disconnected from the realm of accounting. However, delve deeper, and one identifies several points of convergence where the two seemingly distinct areas intersect. 

Financial implications for the business

While bereavement leave is fundamentally a humanitarian gesture, it also comes with direct and indirect financial implications for employers. Direct costs can arise if the leave is paid, which would then affect the payroll and associated expenses. Indirect costs might emerge from hiring temporary replacements part time or full time or overtime payments to other employees covering the bereaved employee’s responsibilities.

Learn how to have a stronger control of employee turnover and payroll management.

Budgetary provisions

Companies that offer paid bereavement leave must factor this into their annual budgets. This requires accountants to estimate potential leaves, consider historical data, and make provisions for these eventualities, ensuring that the company’s finances remain resilient in the face of such unplanned expenses.

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Productivity metrics

The aftermath of bereavement leave might result in a temporary dip in productivity, impacting financial outcomes, especially in departments like sales or production. Employers and accountants, especially those working on management accounting, need to be aware of such nuances to provide a clearer picture of financial performance, adjusted for such anomalies.

Employee benefits accounting

Bereavement leave, when offered as a paid benefit, becomes part of the employee benefits accounting. Accountants must accurately account for and disclose these benefits in financial statements, ensuring transparency and compliance with financial reporting standards.

Find out more about different types of benefits that might be offered to employees.

Tax implications

Depending on the jurisdiction, offering benefits like bereavement leave could have tax implications. For instance, in some regions, employee benefits might be tax-deductible. Accountants need to stay updated on such nuances to ensure the organization avails of any associated tax benefits.

How organizations can support a grieving employee beyond leave 

While bereavement leave is a crucial starting point, the journey of grieving extends far beyond the days or weeks taken off from work. Organizations, with a proactive approach, can create a supportive ecosystem that aids employees in navigating this challenging phase of their lives. Here’s an exploration of the myriad ways businesses can extend their support:

Bereavement Leave: Understanding Its Importance and Implementing Compassionate Policies

1. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). EAPs, often comprising professional counselors and therapists, provide employees with essential mental health support. Especially during the grieving process, having access to expert guidance can make a significant difference in an individual’s healing journey. This is an important aspect of work for human resources (HR).

2. Flexible working arrangements. Grief doesn’t have a strict timeline. By offering flexible working hours or the option to work remotely and spend time with one’s family, organizations can accommodate the ebbs and flows of grieving. This flexibility ensures that employees can work when they feel most focused and take breaks when needed.

3. Training managers and supervisors. The immediate superiors and team leaders play a crucial role in creating a compassionate workspace. Training them to recognize signs of grief, communicate empathetically, and provide necessary accommodations can substantially benefit the grieving employee. Bereavement must be approached properly, that’s why some companies offer such kind of training at least to human resources (HR).

4. Creating safe spaces. Organizations could consider setting up quiet rooms or designated spaces where employees can retreat when feeling overwhelmed. These spaces provide a temporary refuge from the hustle and bustle of the office, allowing moments of reflection and calmness.

5. Encouraging peer support. Peers can be a significant pillar of support. Hosting workshops or sessions where coworkers learn how to offer support without being intrusive can foster a more understanding environment. Sharing experiences, stories, or even just lending a listening ear can make a world of difference and offer a much needed way to let go.

6. Organizing memorial services or tributes. If an employee’s death has affected the organization, holding a memorial service or tribute can provide closure and a sense of community. It also serves as a gesture that the organization acknowledges and mourns the loss together with the family of a deceased.

7. Providing resources. Consider creating a resource hub that includes books, articles, and contacts related to grief and healing. Knowledge can be empowering, and having easy access to information or counseling can be comforting to someone navigating bereavement.

8. Reassuring job security. One of the significant stressors for grieving employees might be the fear of job loss or demotion due to decreased productivity. Clear communication that their position and role are secure can alleviate this anxiety.

Personalizing bereavement leave policy

Bereavement and grief is an intensely personal experience, with individuals navigating it in their unique ways. Recognizing this, some forward-thinking organizations offer personalized bereavement leave policies. This type of policy might mean extended leave for complicated grief or provisions tailored to accommodate varying cultural and religious mourning rituals.

The timeline of grief isn’t predictable. While some might feel ready to return to work after a few days, others might need weeks. Offering a flexible duration, which can be determined based on individual needs and circumstances, can be an immensely beneficial policy.

Different cultures and religions have varied mourning practices, durations, and rituals connected with bereavement. A set bereavement policy might not cater to all these variations. For instance, while Christian mourning might typically last a few days to a week, Hindu mourning practices can extend for 13 days, and some Jewish mourning customs like Shiva last for seven days. Organizations should be open to understanding and accommodating these differences, and consider these provisions when they decide they’d like to offer a bereavement leave opportunity to their employees.


Bereavement leave, more than just a policy, stands as a testament to an organization’s understanding of the complex human experiences its employees undergo. Through the tapestry of grief, financial implications, cultural nuances, and employee welfare, one message stands clear: the true hallmark of a compassionate and forward-thinking organization lies in its willingness to recognize, accommodate, and support the myriad ways in which its members process loss. Granting a leave in such instances is a widely accepted practice followed in many countries worldwide.

As the corporate world continues to evolve in its understanding of employee well-being, bereavement leave reminds us of the profound intersections between professional responsibilities and personal journeys. By embracing both the financial and humanitarian aspects of such policies, businesses not only bolster their reputation but also foster a nurturing environment where every individual, despite their challenges, feels valued and understood.

One should remember that bereavement leave policies, while essential, necessitate thoughtful design and execution. Organizations need to approach this with a blend of empathy, cultural awareness, and operational pragmatism. While challenges exist, they underscore the importance of cultivating a workplace culture that prioritizes understanding and support, ensuring that both employees and the business can thrive.

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