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Must Companies Pay for Bereavement Time?

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Bereavement Time

When a loved one passes away, immediate family members are usually the ones who are most impacted. Dealing with grief is hard enough, and worrying about whether you will be paid for the time you need to take off from work can make it even worse. Although many employers will have bereavement policies in place, this may not always be the case. Are there laws that require companies to have a bereavement policy?

Are There Bereavement Time Laws?

Companies are not required to allow employees to take off or to pay them any wages or benefits during this time, unless they have a policy in place providing for that. However, bereavement leave may be provided by employers as a benefit, and this time off is for employees who have lost loved ones such as spouses, parents, or children. This period is generally used to set up and attend funerals, settle affairs, and grieve. These policies generally allow for three to seven days off from work, but some companies may be more flexible depending on a variety of different factors.

There are no federal laws that require employees to provide paid or unpaid bereavement leave, and Pennsylvania and New Jersey laws do not require this either. Oregon is the only state that has a law concerning bereavement leave, and this was passed back in 2014. In Oregon, employees can have up to two weeks of bereavement leave per family member, if the company has 25 employees; there are additional qualifications as well. It is up to the employer’s discretion to decide if they will allow employees this benefit. You can research your company’s employee handbook to see if there is a set policy for bereavement leave; if there is a policy, the employer is obligated to follow it. The policy might also be found in a collective bargaining agreement or in an individual employment contract.

Does My State Have Other Kinds of Leave Laws?

In Pennsylvania, companies do not have to offer their employees paid or unpaid vacation benefits but must pay workers for accrued vacation time on a separation if their policy provides for this. This also holds true for sick leave benefits, but the employer might have to provide these in accordance with federal laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act. Employees who work for private companies are also not entitled to paid or unpaid holiday leave and may be required to work on holidays without extra pay. Public sector employees are entitled to take off on certain holidays such as New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Pennsylvania workers also do not get paid for jury time, but they are allowed to take off; paid or unpaid time off is not guaranteed for those who wish to go out and vote.

As for New Jersey, there is no guarantee for paid or unpaid vacation benefits here either. Most employers must provide paid sick leave, and federal laws may also dictate how this is carried out. As for holidays, jury time, and voting, New Jersey follows the same protocols as Pennsylvania.

Why Should Companies Have Bereavement Policies?

Losing a loved one is a major life event that creates consequences such as having to travel, arrange a funeral, settle an estate, and take enough time to grieve without added stress. Employers that provide paid or unpaid bereavement time provide an important benefit that can help their employees be more productive and successful in the long run. Not allowing someone to take off to take the necessary steps to handle the arrangements and recover from the loss can lead to anger, resentment, frustration, depression, anxiety, and a host of other unwelcome emotions.

Without federal or state guidance, companies need to understand what is appropriate for their operations. A carefully designed bereavement policy also offers employees important guidance to help them navigate how they will handle things in the days to come. The policy should be clear and concise, yet compassionate enough to show that the company cares about their employees.

What Should a Bereavement Policy Contain?

A bereavement leave policy can be included along with the other kinds of employee leave policies that are set in place. It can begin with a statement of exactly what qualifies for a bereavement leave. Employers may want to differentiate allowed time off depending on the relationship to the employee, whether it be a spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, grandparent, or someone else.

There also needs to be guidelines for requesting the leave, and possibly some documentation showing that the death occurred. That last part can be tricky, since it is such as sensitive topic. Requesting a proof of loss can seem insulting, but employees have been known to provide false information to get time off. Funeral homes may be able to provide documentation for this, and an obituary may also suffice.

Employees may also need to provide a plan to account for how their work will be covered while they are away; this is common for when people take their vacations. Leaving the company in a lurch is never recommended, and the employer may be more understanding if you seek some guidance with this when you are grieving. There should also be a system in place for employees to use when they want to request time off, as this keeps things more organized for everyone.

What Else Should I Know about Bereavement Policies?

The biggest question is whether the bereavement leave will be a paid one. Giving employees paid time off to grieve shows empathy and promotes a humane work environment, especially since funeral costs can be so high. According to one study, 94 percent of employers in the United States do offer their employees paid bereavement leave. This is usually done as part of their paid sick time or paid time off plans, or through separate policies. Paid time off may be more difficult for smaller employers to cover, so they might not be able to offer it.

As a guideline, bereavement leave usually lasts from three to five days. However, an employee might have different religious and cultural customs that impact how they handle family deaths. This should be taken into consideration and be respected by the company. In many cases, employers choose to be flexible and accommodate their workers with additional options when close family members pass away. For example, there may be a formal bereavement policy entitling employees to three paid days off for bereavement of an immediate family member. If an employee suffered a devastating loss or has to travel out of the country, the employer may be willing to allow 10 days off, with three days being paid. When arrangements like this are negotiated, it is essential to document everything in writing, with signatures.

What Else Should My Company Do for My Bereavement?

When co-workers and managers are friendly, they may want to attend the employee’s loved one’s funeral. There should not be a policy for this, since it all depends on the individual relationships. As a courtesy, the employer may allow other workers paid or unpaid time off to attend the funeral services if it is held during the day. Sometimes, other employers contribute money toward flowers, a meal, or something else that will show the employee that they care.

Again, there are no ironclad laws for bereavement time, but some employers will include siblings, guardians, and others as immediate family members. It is also not unheard of to allow bereavement time for employees who have lost beloved pets. In the best-case scenario, the company will have a standard bereavement policy in place but will look at things on a case-by-case basis when the unfortunate happens.

Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C., are Experienced in All Aspects of Employment Law

Even if your employer does not have appropriate policies in place for paid and unpaid time off, you are still entitled to certain rights by law. If you believe that you have been mistreated by your company, do not hesitate to contact the skilled Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Call us today at  856-245-5737 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, we serve clients in Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and South Jersey.

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