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A Complete Guide to Bereavement Leave Policies

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Table Of Contents

Bereavement leave is a necessary part of every company’s leave policy. Unsurprisingly, it’s not a popular discussion topic. It’s not a Leave Type that anyone ever hopes to use. Yet, it’s certain that your company does have its own bereavement leave policy.

Maybe you’re putting together an organization’s leave policy or making amendments to an existing one. Either way, you’ve landed on this article, because you want to know all there is to know about bereavement leave. Whether your company is located in the U.S., in Canada, or anywhere in the world, bereavement leave affects everyone.

We’ve put together a complete guide to bereavement leave policies, so you can have all the information you need to make informed decisions about this sensitive policy.

What Is Bereavement Leave?

To start, bereavement or compassionate leave is distinct and separate from other leave types. An employee who has experienced a death in their family is entitled to paid time off. It’s a leave type that most often comes unannounced. Hence, it is a rather complex situation for both the employee and employer. The employer will experience a full stop in their operations because they will be losing a resource, yet they must remain compassionate and sympathetic.

On the other hand, an employee might already be feeling the stress of their work responsibilities. Now, add to that the emotions that accompany dealing with grieving a lost parent. A death in someone’s close family is a sensitive subject and represents a very tough time for the worker. Therefore, it is crucial for everyone involved to exhibit as much sensitivity and emotional intelligence as possible.

In order for the affected individual to mourn the life of their loved one who’s passed away, bereavement days are granted. It is expected that the employee would need this time off in order to make funeral arrangements, get certain affairs in order, or just simply take some personal time to grieve.

To make matters a little easier for a manager, the policy regarding these special days off needs to be crystal clear. Any lack of clarity or misunderstanding in a situation such as this would certainly lead to insurmountable frustrations.

Bereavement Leave Guidelines

Bereavement leave policy can differ depending on where you or the company you are working for is located. The government generally issues laws or guidelines that identify the obligations of the employer towards their employees for these types of situations. Of course, employers can also go beyond these laws and guidelines.

However, in most countries, employment laws don’t mandate bereavement leave. Yet, because of the nature of this type of leave, employers feel compelled to include it in their policies. A well-structured and generous bereavement leave policy says that the company understands the difficult emotions that accompany grief. Giving time to employees to manage their feelings and affairs is emphatic and good for morale.

Whatever the company chooses to endorse,  should be clearly stated in its policy documents. Employees usually sign these HR documents during the hiring and onboarding process.

The policy should also stipulate the types of relations to the deceased that qualify for this type of leave. A mandatory paid leave to mourn a relative generally only applies to employees who have lost a first-degree relative. It’s important to list or specify which relatives fall into this category.

In most cases, first-degree relatives are considered immediate family members. A spouse, common-law spouse, same-sex partner, child, sibling, parent, mother/father-in-law, sister/brother-in-law, daughter/son-in-law, grandparent, and grandchild could be considered a first-degree relative. Certain companies may have slightly stricter regulations. Indeed, companies may choose to adjust the number of bereavement days based on the relationship.

Moreover, in certain instances, an employee’s time spent working within the company can also impact whether or not they are entitled to paid bereavement leave.

Bereavement Leave Conditions

Nevertheless, some conditions must be in place to claim this type of leave.

First of all, a manager should be notified as soon as an employee is bereaved. They should request their leave immediately. Generally, bereavement days are granted without delay. Then, they are usually redeemed immediately. However, bereavement leave can be postponed or delayed, in certain instances. For example, an employee may use a bereavement day in order to attend a memorial.

The manager or supervisor has to approve the leave request and is responsible for tracking it with HR. They are also responsible for ensuring that the absence doesn’t affect the productivity of their team.

HR is generally responsible for tracking these leaves and keeping records of the employee’s bereavement leave absences. In fact, any company has the right to request documentation, such as an obituary or funeral program, as proof of a death in the employee’s immediate family.

Moreover, bereavement leave policies have been structured to allow for the logistics of funeral attendance and related arrangements. Employees can request unpaid time off if they require additional time. This is generally tolerated in instances of bereavement leave.

Finally, in a recent survey of large American corporations, 63% of companies provide mental health coverage, and 22% offer stress management programs to employees. This is to supplement their bereavement leave days. Although costly and out of reach for some organizations, it is definitely a best practice.

Average Length Of A Bereavement Leave

Currently, 94% of all U.S. organizations offer paid bereavement leave. In the event of the death of an employee’s first-degree relative, he or she is normally entitled to a paid leave of absence. Up to three consecutive working days can be granted. This is generally true of North American employers.

However, some companies are more generous than others. In fact, a study of major U.S. organizations showed that 56% of organizations offered 3 days, but 29% of organizations allowed 5 days, and 5% of companies granted 6 or more days off for bereavement purposes. These numbers pertained to leave following the death of a parent, spouse, or child.

Then, a manager may want to grant additional days of paid or unpaid leave. It is at their discretion. Yet, it would make sense to offer additional days for extensive traveling if a funeral takes place in a completely different part of the world. Furthermore, everyone grieves differently. Therefore, granting more time to process a devastating loss may be necessary for some.

Additionally, paid time off may be granted at the discretion of the manager, for attendance at the funeral of a deceased team member. Of course, this falls outside the typical guidelines. A colleague is not a first-degree family member. Hence, a bereavement leave policy would not formalize this type of leave. Indeed, it would be rather morose to include such a topic in company policy. Yet, team culture would inevitably suffer if a loss of a colleague were not properly mourned. It’s just common sense.

Bereavement Leaves Around The Globe

Companies with international operations must be cognizant of the fact that the mourning process is subject to cultural factors. Therefore, understanding the norms or laws of different countries is crucial to creating a bereavement policy that is respectful of local expectations.

The number of bereavement leave days varies by country. Below are some examples.


  • Australia offers 2 days of paid leave to their employees. The days can be consecutive or not.


  • Brazil allows for 2 consecutive days of paid leave in the case of the death of a close relative.


  • 1 to 3 days of paid leave may be given to all Chinese employees.
  • Interestingly, parents-in-law are considered first-degree relatives.


  • France allows for 3 days of paid bereavement leave for the death of a spouse, partner, parents, siblings, or in-laws.
  • Interestingly, 5 days of paid leave is permissible for a deceased child.

New Zealand

  • In New Zealand, 3 days of bereavement is the norm.
  • Additionally, if the death occurs on a workday, the employee gets an additional day.


  • A contractual agreement between the employee and employer determines the length of any leave.
  • Contract norms typically allow for 3-5 days of leave for bereavement.

South Africa

  • In South Africa, the typical paid leave is 3 days long.
  • However, employers can ask for proof of death.


  • In Spain, 2 days of leave is allocated to all workers for the death of first- and second-degree relatives.
  • If the employee must travel to attend a funeral, 4 days can be granted.

Tracking Bereavement Leaves on Vacation Tracker

Is your team already using Slack as their communication and collaboration tool? If so, then you can reap the benefits of the Vacation Tracker app. With Vacation Tracker, you can track bereavement leave or any other Leave Type.

In fact, Vacation Tracker allows companies to track up to 25 unique, fully customizable Leave Types. Setting up this software is a breeze, and teams can put in leaves in seconds.

It’s a great tool for managers dealing with any type of leave, but especially unplanned bereavement leave requests. Actually, a bereaved employee can instantly submit a bereavement leave request that contains the specific dates of their leave and the detailed reason for their leave. This simplifies record-keeping for HR purposes.

Then, Vacation Tracker Notifications keep the entire team in the loop about this unexpected leave. Teams can plan and manage the absence accordingly.

To find out how to set up new Leave Types on Vacation Tracker, take a look at our “How To” guide to Leave Types.

Kristina Ousmanova
Kristina Ousmanova

Kristina recently left behind fast-paced life of Human Resource Business Consulting to freelance as a Content Writer. A regular Vacation Tracker contributor, she can be found working remotely from her home in Montreal, usually while eating a variety of snacks.

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