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Bereavement leave

What is Bereavement Leave?

Key Takeaways

1. Bereavement leave is a form of leave from work granted to an employee in the event of the death of a close family member or, in some countries, a dependent.

2. In most countries, employers are entitled to ask employees for ‘proof of loss’ – i.e. evidence of the bereavement. 

3. The labor laws relating to bereavement leave vary considerably between countries, presenting a compliance risk for employers who are looking to expand internationally.

4. Companies looking to expand internationally require strong employment contracts that include bereavement leave policies that comply with local laws and are considerate of local customs.

5. Flexible working arrangements can be a useful tool when helping employees readjust to the demands of work following a period of bereavement leave.

Of all the forms of leave from work, bereavement leave may be spoken about the least. 

Often overlooked for completely understandable reasons, employers are well-advised to be aware of their responsibilities in regards to bereavement leave. 

Furthermore, as the market for global talent becomes increasingly competitive, it makes good sense for employers to consider a formal bereavement leave policy as part of their wider employee benefits strategy

In this article, we explain what bereavement leave is and how minimum requirements differ between jurisdictions, before offering key considerations employers should include in a bereavement leave policy. 

At the very least, when a tragedy does inevitably happen, effective employers are those who are well placed to help their bereaved employees during a distressing time.

What is bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave is a form of leave from work that’s granted to employees in the event of the death of a close family member or dependent. 

First and foremost, a period of bereavement leave provides the bereaved employee with the chance to grieve privately. Bereavement leave also affords the employee the time to handle the necessary preparations and legal and financial implications that come with a death. 

On occasion, some employers are prone to using the terms ‘bereavement leave’ and ‘compassionate leave’ interchangeably. This is, however, an error as bereavement and compassionate leave differ in their scope.

Bereavement leave relates specifically to the period after an employee suffers a bereavement; whereas compassionate leave encompasses a much broader range of circumstances, including illness or injury to a family member or dependent. 

Is bereavement leave a legal requirement?

Before bereavement leave can be considered as part of any employee benefits package, it’s important to first consider the minimum legal requirements. 

The task of writing a compliant leave policy is further complicated when managing employee benefits on an international scale. As with other types of leave from work, the minimum requirements and specific labor laws relating to bereavement leave vary from one legal jurisdiction to the next. 

Bereavement leave in the USA

For example, in the USA there is no law at the federal level requiring employers to offer bereavement leave to their employees. Instead, each individual state across the USA has the authority to mandate regulations and restrictions relating to bereavement leave. 

At the time of writing, six states require employers to provide bereavement leave for their employees. Under California’s Labor Code, employers with five or more employees are required to grant employees up to five days of bereavement leave in the event of the death of a family member.

Read more in our guide to paid leave in the United States

Bereavement leave in the UK

Under UK employment legislation there is no legal requirement for employers to pay employees for periods of bereavement leave. However, the Employment Rights Act (1996) obligates UK employers to provide a “reasonable” period of leave when an employee’s family member or dependent passes away. 

The length of the bereavement leave is often at the employer’s discretion and based on individual circumstances. But generally, UK employers offer between two and five days of bereavement leave as standard.  

Read more in our guide to leave in the UK

What is ‘proof of loss’?

In many countries, employers are entitled to ask employees to provide formal proof of loss. Proof of loss requires the employee to present evidence of the bereavement, such as an obituary, funeral programs, or a death certificate. 

Employers are well-advised to include specific proof of loss requirements within employment contracts and the company-wide HR documents such as the employee handbook.

What should you put in your bereavement leave policy? 

Leave entitlements vary considerably between countries, industries and employers. Effective employment contracts, including the articles relating to the bereavement leave policy, are localized to meet legal requirements and local customs. 

The following sections are at the core of a strong bereavement leave policy. 

  • 1. Eligibility

  • In most countries, bereavement leave policies stipulate that the deceased person must be a close family member, such as a parent, sibling, spouse, or child. Some bereavement leave policies extend eligibility to cover other relationships such as in-laws, close friends, and pets.  

  • 2. Notice

  • Establish whether or not employees are required to provide notice of their need for bereavement leave. For certain critical roles, advanced notice of bereavement leave may be desirable. 

  • 3. Duration

  • It makes good sense to set out the duration of the period of bereavement leave as a range. By stipulating a minimum and maximum period of bereavement leave, employers allow themselves to accommodate individual circumstances as a matter of negotiation.

  • For example, the duration of the bereavement leave requested by an employee tends to vary based on specific circumstances such as the nature of the relationship or whether or not travel is required.  

  • 4. Proof of loss

  • Consider whether or not to require bereaved employees to provide proof of loss. Include guidance on the acceptable forms of proof of loss, from official documentation such as death certificates, to obituaries, death notices or funeral programs.

  • 5. Payment

  • If bereavement leave is to be paid, be clear on the payment terms. As well as the rate of pay, consider whether to impose a limitation on the number of days that can be taken as paid bereavement leave. 

  • 6. Employee rights and benefits

  • Provide reassurance to bereaved employees by clearly stating employees rights and benefits during a period of bereavement leave. In this case, relevant employee benefits might include job protection and the ability to request an extension to the initial period of leave.

  • 7. Employee support

  • Include details on the types of support your company offers bereaved employees. In particular, highlight employee assistance programs and the ability to establish a flexible working arrangement. Bereaved employees can benefit from a flexible working arrangement in the time following a bereavement. Provide guidance on how employees can request a flexible working arrangement, including the approval process.

Ensure bereavement leave compliance — with Horizons

All businesses that expand internationally face challenges in managing employee benefits, such as leave from work. An unambiguous bereavement leave policy is a key feature of strong employment contracts.

Horizons global PEO solutions support businesses and their employees in over 180 countries worldwide. We work closely with our client companies to ensure full compliance with labor laws across hiring, payroll, taxes, and employee benefits administration. 


Frequently Asked Questions

Typically, eligibility for bereavement leave is based on the relationship with the deceased. For example, the death of an immediate family member such as a parent, sibling, child, or spouse or a dependent.

Note that practices and labor laws relating to leave from work, such as bereavement leave differ between countries and companies. Some companies extend their bereavement leave policies to cover the death of close friends, in-laws and pets.

Bereavement leave tends to be an unpaid entitlement. For example, leave regulations in the UK and Australia are not required to provide paid bereavement leave to employees. In the USA, there are no federal laws requiring employers to even offer bereavement leave but some states have written labor codes covering bereavement and compassionate leave.  

Certain jurisdictions do require employers to provide for paid time off in times of bereavement. Leave regulations in Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines all include provisions for paid bereavement leave.

Some employers also choose to provide paid bereavement leave as part of their employee benefits packages. 

What is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave