Small businesses may offer more lenient leave policies.
Employers acknowledge their employees' need for time off to mourn the loss of a family member or someone whom the employee considers family. Employment laws don't mandate bereavement leave, and, because of the sorrowful nature of this kind leave, it's not the type of leave that employers advertise like generous vacation policies. Bereavement leave is the employer's benevolent response that says the company understands the devastation that accompanies grief and an employee's need to put aside work to manage personal feelings and issues during this difficult time.
Process and Purpose
When an immediate family member dies, the grieving employee should contact either her supervisor or the HR department with information about the days she needs to be off work. Time off from work is for handling funeral arrangements and attending funeral and memorial services. The company reserves the right to request documentation, such as an obituary or funeral program, as proof of the death. Under normal circumstances, however, the company doesn't require written proof.
Time and Relationships
The amount of paid time off often depends on the relationship between the employee and the deceased family member. Many employers give three days' paid time off; however, a sample of a more generous bereavement policy might include up to five days off. In this case, a sample policy might state: "When an employee loses an immediate family member, the company provides up to five days of paid time off. Immediate family members include spouse, child, parents, mother- and father-in-law, stepparents, stepchildren and step-siblings. The company provides three days of paid time off in the case of an extended family member's death. Extended family includes aunt, uncle, grandparents or grandparents-in-law, grandchildren, brother- and sister-in-law, and daughter- or son-in-law. In the event that the deceased is an extended family member or is not a blood relative, but is deemed in loco parentis, the employee is entitled to the five days of paid time off that applies to immediate family members. In states where employment laws protect the rights of employees based on sexual orientation or where same-sex marriages are recognized, or in companies that provide equal benefits for domestic partners, the company provides the same amounts of bereavement leave based on the domestic partnership. The company may grant additional time if out-of-town travel is required to plan or attend the deceased's services."
In cases where the employee has extended duties associated with the family member's death, such as serving as the executor of the estate, the employee can apply for additional time off. The company may grant a 30-day leave of absence to an employee who requests it, based on personal and business responsibilities following the family member's passing. If the employee does not have enough vacation time to cover 30 days, the time off may be unpaid. Provided the employee meets the conditions required for requesting a personal leave of absence and the leave of absence does not exceed 30 days, she can return to her job or an equivalent job of comparable pay, benefits and responsibilities.
If additional time off is required for the employee to address matters such as grief counseling or health-related issues following the death of a family member, the employee may be eligible to apply for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. In this case, the FMLA guidelines apply and the employee may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. The company is obligated to maintain the employee's group health coverage benefits during approved FMLA leave.
Small Business Policies
Small businesses often have cohesive employer-employee relationships that resemble a family work environment. In a 2009 survey, the Society for Human Resource Management conducted on paid leave options, it found that 90 percent of employers provide bereavement leave and the average number of days granted was approximately three days. Small businesses may grant longer periods of leave based on a presumed greater level of individual concern for employees and their families. All employers should have policies for workplace structure; however, many small businesses can afford to have more flexible policies, provided that flexibility doesn't show favoritism or bias.
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