HR Best Practices

FAQ: All Things Bereavement

September 2, 2022
Answers to the most frequently asked questions about bereavement leave, care and benefits as well as the bereavement care services offered to families by Betterleave.
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At Betterleave, we’re making bereavement care centralized and accessible for all, starting in the workplace. We help simplify the complex world of bereavement. But what exactly does that mean? We’ve compiled some commonly asked questions and key terms to get you started. 

What is bereavement? 

Bereavement is the period of mourning and accompanying state of grief after a loss. It is usually associated with the passing of a loved one, but can be triggered by other significant losses like miscarriage, divorce, job loss, the passing of a pet, and other monumental life events. This period can be both physically and emotionally challenging. An individual’s experience with bereavement is different, and it can take an individual more or less time than another to bereave a personal loss.

Do employers offer bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave is a leave of absence benefit provided by employers. The time is usually taken to grieve their loss, attend a funeral or memorial, and handle any other end-of-life affairs. Employers that offer bereavement leave may provide it as paid leave, unpaid leave, or some combination of both.

What is bereavement care?

Bereavement care is defined as the formalized care and support for individuals taking bereavement leave to help them navigate the logistics and emotional impacts following the loss of a loved one. Our bereavement care platform enables modern employers to connect with and support employees, both in and out of the workplace. Betterleave delivers high-quality care and personalized assistance with:

  • bereavement navigation
  • behavioral health services
  • estate & financial planning
  • estate management
  • future planning & immediate need
  • funeral & memorial coordination

Is bereavement leave guaranteed?

Currently, there are no federal and few state laws that require employers to provide employees with either paid or unpaid bereavement leave. This leaves creating and implementing bereavement policies and programs up to the individual employers. Workers’ unions, which may negotiate bereavement as part of a collective bargaining contract, are a potential exception to this. If an employer has a bereavement leave policy in place, then its employees are entitled to an absence from work for the specified amount of time to attend a funeral or memorial without having to use their personal, sick, or vacation leave. Individual employers are permitted to determine which family members and loved ones are covered by their bereavement leave policy and how much leave an employee may take. Oftentimes, this information can be found in the employee handbook.

What is included in future planning and why is it important?

Future planning, also known as pre-need planning, is the process of preparing financially, medically, and logistically for one’s passing. Creating a will or estate plan is an important element of future planning and covers everything from finances to caregiving. Having a plan in place can help secure your family’s future and provide peace of mind. Betterleave members have access to a full set of trust and will documents to assist with future planning, which often includes:

  • planning for the dispersal of assets and coverage of debts
  • implementing or updating insurance policies
  • creating a living will
  • minimizing estate taxes and the chances of probate
  • designating executors and guardians
  • specifying funeral preferences

What is immediate need?

Immediate need refers to the end-of-life logistical tasks to be addressed immediately following a person’s passing, such as finding the right funeral home or crafting an obituary. If you are the executor, this also means overseeing the settling of the person’s estate. Depending on the circumstances, this may include reporting the death, getting a legal pronouncement of death, locating and arranging funeral and end-of-life plans, contacting others, arranging care for dependents and pets, and the distribution of assets. 

Is it possible to experience anticipatory grief before a loss?

There are several types of grief a person could experience as a response to a loss and just as many forms that grief could take. Anticipatory grief is the grief that occurs before a loss. This can include the grief felt by the loved ones of an individual with a terminal illness or life-limiting diagnosis, as well as the individual themselves. Unlike a sudden loss, a loss that's anticipated might give people more time to prepare for the significant life changes that will accompany it. It is important to remember everyone has their own unique experience with grief and there’s no “right” or “wrong” response to loss.

Is bereavement leave covered under FMLA or other leave policies?

In the US, there is no federally mandated policy for bereavement. Federal labor laws and the Family and Medical Leave Act do not require employers to provide paid bereavement leave, making it discretionary. Despite this, many employers, including federal, do allow their employees to take a limited number of days off to attend a loved one’s funeral following a personal loss. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average bereavement leave offered for the death of an immediate family member by employers is three to five days.

Are there certain states that require employers to provide bereavement leave? 

There are no federal laws that require employers to provide bereavement leave to employees; therefore, each state may establish its own bereavement leave rules and restrictions. Although most states do not require employers to provide bereavement leave specifically, employers may still be required to allow employees to take personal, sick, or vacation leave to attend a funeral and bereave the loss of a loved one. At a minimum, employers typically allow employees to attend the funeral of a loved one, but over 90% of employers now provide a limited amount of paid bereavement leave to grieve the loss of a spouse, child, parent, grandparent, or sibling. However, many policies strictly define who qualifies as immediate or extended family. Betterleave recommends offering at least 10 days paid leave and benefits beyond leave, as well as developing leave policies inclusive of friends, colleagues, miscarriages, stillbirths, failed adoptions, pets, and other grief-related events. 

States with mandated unpaid bereavement leave:

  • Maryland: The Maryland Flexible Leave Act authorizes employees of employers with 15 or more individuals to use "leave with pay" for bereavement leave upon the death of a child, spouse or parent.
  • Oregon: Employers with 25 or more employees, up to 2 weeks of leave after the death of a family member (as defined by Oregon Family Leave Act). Paid family leave is coming in 2023 under the Paid Leave Oregon program. 
  • Washington: The 2022 amendments to the paid family and medical leave law expanded the reasons for paid leave to include bereavement under specific circumstances for all employers.
  • Illinois: Employers with 50 or more employees, must grant employees 10 days unpaid leave to grieve the death of a child under the Child Bereavement Leave Act (now called the Family Bereavement Leave Act). Effective January 1, 2023, leave requirements will also include pregnancy loss, failed adoptions, unsuccessful reproductive procedures, and other diagnoses or events impacting pregnancy and fertility. 

States with passed legislation on paid leave that can be used towards bereavement leave:

States considering legislation regarding bereavement leave: 

  • California: The California legislature is currently considering a bill (AB-95) requiring employers to provide bereavement leave to employees.

What are bereavement benefits?

Bereavement benefits are a new category of employee benefits providing the resources and tools that employers need to support their workforce while also providing support for employees and their families before, during, and after bereavement leave. Bereavement benefits are often included in compassionate leave programs, which offer more flexibility and support the full lives of employees. Benefits beyond leave also have a positive impact on workplace culture, employee wellbeing and retention, and the organizational bottom line. 

Betterleave’s integrated services and solutions make bereavement care easy for HR while providing employees access to personalized support. Our comprehensive platform offers 1:1 bereavement navigation, behavioral health services, and estate & financial planning, and our partner program helps individuals confidently navigate the complex bereavement landscape with a curated ecosystem of death care experts, providers, and resources. Bereavement benefits go above and beyond leave, providing employees support with: 

  • pre-need & immediate need
  • funeral & memorial coordination
  • writing an obituary
  • claiming & applying for benefits
  • memorializing loved ones
  • probate & estate navigation
  • debts & taxes

Ultimately, the impact of bereavement benefits extends far beyond leave and provides mutual value for both the employee and the organization. 

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