Employers Are Not Legally Required to Offer Bereavement Leave (But You Really Should)

Even though California employers aren’t required to offer their employees bereavement leave, doing so gives them a chance to grieve in peace and creates a more positive work relationship between you and your employees.

After the loss of a loved one, your employees face many challenges. In addition to grief, they might need to help other family members adjust. And an unexpected death can leave a family financially struggling due to medical bills, funeral costs, and lost income. For some, balancing bereavement and work is impossible. While California doesn’t require bereavement leave, a compassionate bereavement policy offers employees and employers several benefits.

Grieving Employees Cost Businesses Billions Each Year

According to a 2016 Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey, most employers only offer 1-4 days of bereavement leave after the loss of a relative. The length of the employee’s leave typically depends on the nature of their relationship with the deceased. According to the SHRM survey, most employees receive four days of leave for the loss of a child or spouse. After the death of a domestic partner, parent, grandparent, grandchild, or foster child, most employees get three-days bereavement leave. They typically only get one-to-two days of leave after the loss of an extended family member.

Grief doesn’t magically resolve in less than a week. Three days of bereavement will only give the employee enough time to attend the funeral — not adjust to their new reality. While every employee is different, and some want or need to return to work immediately, many grieving employees will struggle with inattention, sadness, depression, and other serious mental health symptoms. Grief experts suggest employers create policies that address the entire grief process, not just the funeral.

In 2003, the Grief Recovery Institute Educational Foundation studied the cost of grief, evaluating government data and 25,000 interviews with participants in grief recovery programs. It found that grief-related absenteeism, presenteeism, and lost productivity costs workplaces $75 billion each year.

There is evidence that offering grieving employees more time off can save your business money. When California implemented paid family leave, less than 10% of businesses reported problems with profitability, turnover, and morale. After five years of state-mandated paid family leave, California businesses reported:

  • Improved Productivity: 89% of surveyed companies experienced either no change or increased productivity levels
  • Better Performance: 91% of employers thought their profitability and employee performance improved
  • Higher Morale: 99% of employers noticed improvements in employee morale

There’s a reason to believe that an extended bereavement leave would show similar benefits.

Leading Companies Offer Extensive Bereavement Leave

Facebook made news in 2017 when it announced its employees would receive up to 20 days of bereavement leave when a family member dies. Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s CEO, lost her husband unexpectedly in 2015 and has become an advocate for more comprehensive bereavement strategies in the workplace. Shortly after the Facebook announcement, Mastercard and SurveyMonkey announced similar bereavement policies.

Even Small Businesses Can Offer Creative Bereavement Leave Options

Even if you can’t afford to give your employers a 20-day bereavement leave, there are many creative, low-cost ways to build a culture of appreciation and empathy in your workplace.

You should consider:

  • Acknowledging the employee’s loss and giving them space to grieve
  • Educating the employee about your leave policies
  • Training supervisors and managers about grief and empathy
  • Sending flowers, a card, or a donation in honor of your employee’s loved one
  • Offering flexible work schedules after the loss of a loved one
  • If an employee needs extra time, giving co-workers an opportunity to donate PTO hours
  • Having your team offer practical help, like healthy prepared meals or child care assistance
  • Compiling a list of community resources that help with grief recovery

You also might want to ask the employee how much information they want to share with the rest of the team. While some people are willing to discuss their loss, others appreciate privacy and space.

Finally, make sure your employees take care of their own health and wellness after a loss. Grief can negatively impact your emotional and physical health. Remind them about their healthcare benefits and highlight essential resources, such as mental health coverage. All of Canopy Health’s carrier partners offer behavioral health coverage.


Society for Human Resource Management (2016, October 6). 2016 Paid Leave in the Workforce. SHRM. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/pages/2016-paid-leave-in-the-workplace.aspx