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How much paid bereavement leave should an employee expect?

  • Author: Lynne Curry
    | Alaska Workplace
  • Updated: July 22, 2019
  • Published July 22, 2019

Q: When I got word that my brother had died, I caught the next plane to Chicago. Since it was an overnight flight, I called my manager the next morning and explained I’d had to leave right away.

He said he understood and he’d fill out the leave slip for me. I didn’t expect his later text, that said I could take up to seven days of leave, but had to understand that I was out of paid time off and it would be leave without pay.

I live paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford unpaid time off, so I cut my visit short, which hurt like hell. When I told my relatives why I was leaving, they all said I should get at least three days of paid bereavement leave as no employer can expect an employee to work under these circumstances and few employees have the financial resources to take time off without pay.

I texted that information to my manager hoping he’d reconsider, and he responded that he’d donate two days from his leave bank to me. When I got my next paycheck, I raised my complaint to the head of accounting who also handles HR. She said our company didn’t have bereavement leave and that the company couldn’t afford it. When I said the company could afford it better than I could, she told me if they gave it to me, they’d have to give it to everyone else.

We got into it. When I asked her “exactly how many employees have someone they love die each year?”, she told me I’d created the problem I was trying to blame the company for because I’d already used up my leave for the year. She also said I’d asked for unauthorized leave, having left the state before my leave was approved.

I plan to quit. How do I explain this in a job interview?

A: I’m truly sorry for your grief.

If you decide to launch a job search and get asked “what puts you in the job market?”, focus your answer on the opportunity presented by the potential job and how much you’d like to work for the new employer. Right now, your emotions run high, and volatile emotions can torpedo an interview.

You can, of course, look around for a company with greater benefits. Most state, federal and municipal organizations offer far greater benefit packages to their employees than do private-sector firms.

I’d urge you, however, to take a month or so to think this over before conducting a job search. Not only does your manager have a heart, but your current job may offer you intangible benefits you might lose if you leave for a company with better leave benefits. Further, decisions like the one you’re considering generally come easier once time wears off the sharp edge of grief — and some of your anger at your current employer may be grief-fueled.

You raise a significant question — what amount of additional paid leave can an employee expect when coping with a loss? On your behalf, I called HR officers at 14 companies and scanned through their personnel policies. I learned that bereavement and many other specialized leaves evaporated in the last several decades as rising medical costs forced many companies to slice their employees’ benefit packages. Eleven of the 14 have leave programs similar to your current company. They offer employees generic “paid time off,” which employees can use for any reason, including sick, vacation, bereavement or personal leave.

Only two company’s policies specifically mentioned bereavement, each offering that employees could use one to three days of sick leave to attend funerals. One company no longer offers any paid leave.

Finally, your manager showed that he stepped to the plate by donating two days of his leave to you. Your accounting person, however, forgot the “human” in “human resources.” While part of what she said was true, blaming you for not getting approval before catching a red-eye flight after learning of a death made little sense.

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