Bereavement Leave: HR and Loss

When the call comes, it’s an unexpected call. It’s the kind of call that you would dread getting in the middle of the night at 3 a.m. because you already know when you pick up the phone it is going to be bad news.

I was the unfortunate recipient of one of these calls last month and it really opened my eyes to the issues surrounding bereavement and how frightening these situations can be. How a supervisor or HR contact handles this situation could be critical to how the relationship between employee/employer progresses years into the future or create a sour note that envelopes the entire relationship.

To give some background, my family resides in a completely different country. I got a call saying my grandmother was very ill but they didn’t think I would make it in time. After receiving this upsetting news, I immediately looked for flights, called my supervisor to explain the situation, and took the 14-hour flight the next day. I was gone over a week and a half.

How should an HR professional handle something like this?

There are always a few questions that should be asked when something like this occurs. If the handbook doesn’t state specifically about the type of leave or emergency situation protocol, good things to find out would be:

  1. How long the employee may intend to be away? (They may not know, which is fine but ask them for an estimate at least. I told my supervisor at least a week, and I would be in touch as soon as I understood what was going on to further clarify the situation)
  2. What is happening and seeing if any of your company’s policies would provide help/alleviation whether financially or emotionally. (See FMLA) If your employee has paid time off, ask them if they would like to use that during the time they are away.
  3. What projects are being worked on and if any pressing timelines are com

Overall, be compassionate, this is an emotional and frantic time for your employee and how you as an HR professional handle this will affect how the company is perceived.

How much leave is a person entitled to after the death of a loved one?

In New Zealand, employees get a minimum of 3 days. But we don’t all live in New Zealand do we?

According to the California law, and in general federal law for the USA, private employers are not required to provide employees any time off to attend a funeral.  However, most companies will at least allow some time off and allow personal time off to be used for the death of a close loved one. Public employers are required to grant up to 3 days of paid leave. There are special terms to this. The following requirements apply (Govt C §19859.3(a)–(b)):

(a) Any permanent employee who is either excluded from the definition of state employee in subdivision (c) of Section 3513, or is a nonelected officer or employee of the executive branch of government who is not a member of the civil service, shall be granted bereavement leave with pay for the death of a person related by blood, adoption, or marriage, or any person residing in the immediate household of the employee at the time of death.  The employee shall give advance notice to the employee’s immediate supervisor and shall provide substantiation to support the request.

(b) For any one occurrence, the bereavement leave shall not exceed three days.  However, if the death occurred outside this state, a request for two additional days of bereavement leave shall be granted, at the option of the employee, as either without pay or as a charge against any accrued sick leave credit.

(c) If additional bereavement leave is necessary, the employee may use accrued vacation, compensating time off, or take an authorized leave without pay, subject to the approval of the appointing power.

– See more at:

Contact your HR Department directly for more information or refer to your handbook for your Companies specific policy.

Why should HR professionals consider adding compassionate/bereavement leave to their policies?

In the long run, Human Resources are required to provide humans with support to do their jobs better. When someone that is dearly beloved is sick or dies, this impacts their lives forever, and how this is handled can be critical to the employer/employee relationship in this future. Having a standard policy in place will reassure employees that they are cared for and relieve some of the stress surrounding an already stressful situation.

How does your Company handle bereavement leave or emergency situations? Do you believe there should be a legal obligation for the employer to provide paid bereavement leave?

My apologies to my loyal readers, the last few weeks have been tough for me as you can tell, but death has a way of putting everything in your life on hold.

I was very lucky, not only did I make in in time, I was able to spend a few days with my grandmother. But it was not without reservations when I called into work to explain the situation.

It is my humble opinion that following a personal tragedy, it is in the interests of the Company and employee to at least provide some time to cope.

But what do I know? I’m…

~Just the HR Girl


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