Bereavement Leave

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Bereavement, a form of compassionate leave (although sometimes contrasted with it) is authorized absence from work upon the death of an immediate family member (or in some rarer instances, upon the death of other relatives or associates). Where such leave is granted in connection with an immediate-family member, it is usually paid, but for a short period, usually three days. Under some legislation, e.g., the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, there is no specific, mandated provision for bereavement leave, which, therefore, even as unpaid leave, the employee must discuss with the employer. In other countries, e.g., Canada, all employees must be granted paid bereavement leave for a specified period, when eligibility criteria, such as continuous employment for three months, have been met. While the U.K. mandates bereavement benefits and "reasonable" unpaid time off for emergencies involving dependents, there is no specific provision for bereavement leave (paid or unpaid), which will therefore depend on the private arrangements with the employer.

It is advisable to determine what an employer's bereavement and compassionate leave policies are and to confirm that they are in compliance with any germane local laws.

Bereavement leave, often regarded as a form of compassionate leave, in other instances as distinct from it, refers to the period of time that the employee takes off work, usually because of a death in his or her immediate family. (Such leave, which is considered paid leave, is usually for three days.) Immediate family members generally include an employee's spouse, parents, stepparents, siblings, children, grandparent, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, grandchild or stepchildren. Whether, in a given case, such leave is limited to the death of a dependent immediate-family member should be confirmed. (For the death of a relative that is not immediate family, the leave is usually for one day.) The purpose behind this is to allow the employee to attend the funeral or make funeral arrangements.

Given the emotional nature of such occasions, most organizations are understanding enough to grant additional non-paid time off to the employee, as and when the need arises. In the United States, while there is no law that grants bereavement leave to individuals, the U.S. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family-related matters. The U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act specifies no policies governing bereavement, other than to note that bereavement leave is a matter of employee-employer negotiation. Policies also differ from state to state, as well as organization to organization. For example, the owner or manager of a small business, which might not have its leave policies chiseled in stone, would have the discretion to determine how much bereavement leave to grant to the employee.

In addition, most employers require employees to be a regular full-time employee with a minimum period of continuous employment to qualify for bereavement leave. In Canada, for example, to be eligible for paid bereavement leave, an employee must have completed a 3-month period of continuous employment. As for part-time employees, this is subject to the employer's policies. Some organizations may also require a proof of death.

While eligibility, in terms of whose death entitles an employee to bereavement or compassionate leave, is usually strictly circumscribed, in smaller or more informal organizations it may be possible to be granted unpaid leave upon the death of friends, business associates, etc., on a case-by-case basis.
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