Funeral PlanningLegalBereavement Leave: Loss and the Workplace

February 15, 2020Obitia

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Most people are aware of maternity and paternity leave after they have children. Bereavement leave allows employees to take time off of work in order to go through the grieving process as well as deal with the process of both having a funeral or memorial service for the death of a loved one and settling their estate, as well as, taking care of other issues and circumstances that may arise in their family due to a death.


What is the law?

There is currently no federal law that requires bereavement leave.

Only the state of Oregon currently requires bereavement leave (as of 2014), however, there are exceptions. The law only applies to businesses with twenty-five (25) or more workers and they must qualify as an “eligible employee”. An eligible employee is defined by someone who has worked a minimum of one hundred and eighty (180) days and has worked twenty-five (25) hours per week during the 180 days. If you meet these requirements then you may take off two (2) weeks for each family member who has passed. The leave must be taken within sixty (60) days of your loved one’s death.

For all other states and the District of Columbia (D.C.), bereavement leave is at the discretion of the employer or determined by the employee’s contract or collective bargaining agreement, depending on their employment status and membership in a trade organization or labor union.


What are your options as an employee?

While most employers will see the need and give reasonable time off for you to grieve and resolve any outstanding issues that surround a death such as winding-up the estate, making sure family is appropriately cared for, et cetera. You may need to take days off under your vacation or mandated sick leave if you have no other obvious options.

The U.S. Office of People Management (OPM) gives employees either thirteen (13) days or one hundred and four (104) hours of sick leave per year. Sick leave can be used for organizing funeral arrangements and attending a funeral, as well as, taking care of other family medical emergencies that may require your care. A “family member” according to the OPM is:

  • a child or stepchild
  • Parents, step-parents, and parents in law
  • Grandparents
  • Spouses, including same-sex spouses and domestic partners
  • Siblings
  • Foster children or other children with which you have guardianship

Your employer may be required under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to give you as much as twelve (12) weeks of unpaid leave per year. The FMLA does not specifically cover bereavement leave, however, it does cover caring for a dying family member or for grief-related counseling. Employers are required to continue your health insurance while you are on leave.

Do you need to speak with an employment law attorney?


What should you do if you are an employer?

If you are an employer you will have to consider the circumstances of the situation. The current workload and the importance of that employee may dictate when and how much time you can give them off. Because most businesses are small businesses and have a close personal relationship with everyone who works there, it is usually best to give time off if you can.

It should also be kept in mind that a grieving employee, especially one that has lost a close family member will be unable to do their job. It is usually best to err on the side of giving them the time they need to deal with the loss at home with family, rather than force them to deal with their grief in the workplace which will be negative for everyone.

No matter what your policy it should be made clear and written down as policy in an employee handbook so that both the employee and the managers/owners are both aware of it before a situation arises.

Are you an employer that needs legal guidance on bereavement leave?



Bereavement leave is not recognized under federal law and only one state, Oregon, has a law mandating it. This means that you will need to consult your employment contract and/or your employee handbook or human resources policy if you do not live in Oregon. If you cannot find anything specific, talk to the individual responsible for human resources or your boss. Most businesses should be accommodating considering the circumstances.

If you need legal advice please consult an attorney that specializes in employment law.


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