Before 2020, I had never thought much about bereavement leave policies at work. Whenever I started a new job I would ask about 401k, health insurance, vacation time, and sick leave, but never about bereavement leave. That’s because before 2020, I had not been part of the “I lost a loved one” club. It was March 2020 when my paternal grandfather died right at the beginning of the pandemic. Then in January 2021, my maternal grandfather died. Then it was August 2021 and my maternal grandmother died. Later that same year, my mom’s best friend (who was like an aunt to me) died suddenly in December 2021. In a matter of two years, I had grieved the death of four loved ones.
Since then, I have learned that there are no federal laws that require organizations to offer bereavement leave for employees grieving loss. Additionally, most states don’t require employers to offer bereavement leave. Only Maryland, Oregon, California, Illinois, and Washington have laws and regulations related to bereavement leave.
Research by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) shows that 88% of organizations do offer bereavement leave. However, these periods typically extend from 3 days to 5 days, which is not enough time for a human to process the death of a loved one.
It’s been more than two years since I lost four family members and I still find myself exploding in tears over the memory of them. It can be a TV show, it can be a smell, it can be a song that will trigger me. Grief is not linear; it makes no sense at times. I have not been in control of it. However, I found more control in how I react to it. I have had to teach myself to accept all the feelings: angry, subdued, numb, sad, all of it. Through this process I have had to offer myself plenty of compassion and kindness.
If you’re like I was, and you hadn’t thought of how bereavement can be a part of your job negotiations or current role, consider some of the approaches below.
When you’re about to accept a new job, inquire about bereavement leave. Make sure you see their actual policy. It should specify how many days and in what situation it will apply. In an ideal company setting, it is my hope that companies provide at least two weeks of bereavement leave.
Discuss what constitutes a loss in the eyes of an organization. For example, is it only related to the death of a loved one, or other losses, such as fertility losses?
If you’re in a privileged situation with standard bereavement leave, vacation days, sick leave or can take unpaid leave, consider pushing back on our anti-grieving culture and take additional days off if you need it. Ideally Human Resources leadership should participate and provide training on how to offer support when someone is grieving. For example, HR could suggest to leadership to have a back up plan for who can assist the grieving employee’s workload.
If you participate in your employer’s health insurance, verify if it covers therapy or if your company has an employee assistance program, they may offer free therapy services.
It can be easy to forget about the normal role of grief in our life, and we often overlook how our employers can support us through loss. That’s why it is important to prioritize your grief benefits when considering a new employer. Protect yourself and your well-being before it’s too late and too overwhelming.