Bereavement Policy: Best Practices for Handling Grief in the Workplace

By Jeanette Coleman, SPHR & SHRM-SCP on Jan 30, 2024
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It’s difficult to watch someone on your small business team grieve a personal loss. It’s also expensive. Recent data from the Grief Recovery Institute Educational Foundation puts a huge annual price tag of $75 billion on the cost of grief in the workplace. 

To lessen the impact on a grieving employee and the business, companies should adopt a robust bereavement policy that supports employees through difficult times. Offering resources like paid time off after a loss lifts some weight from the employee’s shoulders and leads to higher satisfaction and retention. 

The opposite is also true. The employer-employee relationship could be irreparably damaged if the company doesn’t make some room for employees to deal with loss in their own ways, without workplace eyes upon them. The National Council for Palliative Care and Dying Matters reports that one in four employees is grieving at any given time, and more than half will consider leaving their jobs if employers don’t provide support after someone they love dies.  

Bereavement leave benefits are a tangible way employers can help comfort mourning employees both emotionally and financially. They’re a benevolent response that indicates the company understands employees may need some time off to manage personal feelings after experiencing a loss.  

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What to Include in a Bereavement Policy 

Beyond the death of a loved one – the most common grief-invoking life event, which affects an average of 4 million employees in the American workforce every year – companies are increasingly expanding the scope of losses covered by bereavement policies. Trending examples include also offering paid time off after a miscarriage or the death of a pet. 

If your company doesn’t have a bereavement policy or hasn’t revisited an existing one in a while, consider including: 

  • Miscarriage benefits

    It can be devastating to lose a pregnancy, whether it’s a miscarriage, failed in vitro fertilization or some other cause. It’s a devastating loss that many companies now recognize as a disruptive life event that bereavement policies should cover. 
  • Pet bereavement

    After the loss of a beloved pet, people can experience symptoms akin to those individuals face when they’re grieving the death of a loved one, including sadness, lack of appetite and difficulty sleeping and concentrating. Consider including bereavement benefits for people who lose an animal companion that likely was considered a part of the family. 
  • Major life events 

    For some people, a divorce, personal property theft or other significant event can be as traumatic as experiencing a close relative’s death. Recognizing the mental health crisis in the United States, consider how your company might incorporate such events in your bereavement policy. 

RELATED: DOL Reminds Employers FMLA Allows Leave for Mental Health Treatment >>

  • Defining “loved one”

    It’s important to describe what qualifies as a “loved one” in your bereavement benefits since the death of a relative is the basis of most policies. Typically, bereavement policies cover “immediate” family – that is, the employee’s parent; spouse; child; sibling; parent-in-law; grandparent; grandchild; stepparent; stepsibling; and domestic partner.  

However, some people feel as close to extended family – aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, for example – and friends as they do to immediate family members. Recognizing the importance of those relationships, it’s not unreasonable to include these “other loved ones” in your bereavement policy. 

While they might not be mentioned specifically in your bereavement policy, two other considerations come into play when an employee loses a loved one: 

  • Remote work options

    Your company may want to offer flexible work arrangements, such as working remotely, reduced hours or a different schedule to allow mourning employees additional time and space before a physical return to the workplace. Longer-term telecommuting also may ease an employee’s transition back to a normal, in-office schedule. 
  • Employee assistance

    Including additional resources through an employee assistance program (EAP) supports psychological well-being. Many companies offer mental health services like grief counseling through their EAPs. 

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The Importance of Bereavement Benefits in the Workplace

While only a handful of states require employers to offer bereavement benefits – these do not include Kansas and Missouri – doing so still makes sense from both a business and a human perspective. No one can be expected to experience a significant loss and continue performing at work as though nothing is different.  

A written bereavement policy that clearly explains related benefits makes employees feel supported and prevents unrealistic expectations in an already difficult time. Employees at companies without an official policy, for example, may assume PTO after a disruptive life event is automatic when in fact it’s not.  

RELATED: Processing Final Paychecks for Deceased Employees >>

Developing Effective Bereavement Policies with Axcet HR Solutions

If you’re unsure how to create or update a bereavement policy that supports grieving employees and serves both their and your company’s best interests, contact the HR services experts at Axcet HR Solutions. We have decades of experience developing bereavement policies and handling other critical HR needs for small business owners who want to cultivate a culture where thriving employees drive the company’s success. Schedule a consultation today.

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