What is Bereavement Leave and How Should You Request It?

hearing sad news at the office

If a friend or family member has just passed away, work is probably the last thing on your mind. Fortunately, most organizations recognize that employees need time and space to grieve when the unthinkable happens. In this guide, we’ll explore options surrounding bereavement leave and how to ask for time off when you’ve experienced personal loss.

What is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave refers to the time off organizations grant to employees who’ve recently experienced the death of a loved one. Taking bereavement leave does not count toward other forms of scheduled leave (such as your vacation time), and usually lasts around three days (although some employers offer more). Bereavement leave is mostly paid.

Yet, it’s not a federal requirement for employers to offer bereavement leave. So only 60% of private-sector workers have access to paid bereavement leave as of 2012 — the latest reported year by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

But there are signs that the tide is turning. Oregon recently passed a law requiring organizations to offer two-week bereavement leave to workers who they’ve employed for a least six months. 

What’s more, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many companies to rethink their commitment to presenteeism. A recent study revealed that 53% of firms have implemented additional emotional and mental health support in response to the pandemic. As the world wakes up to the need for awareness surrounding grief and mental health, workers can feel more confident in asserting their need to take time off.     

How Long is Bereavement Leave?

It depends. Paid bereavement leave usually lasts between three and five days, although some companies may grant more paid or unpaid leave if an employee struggles to cope. 

Facebook is considered a pioneer of empathic bereavement policies, offering up to 20 days of paid leave. Other honorable mentions include Twitter and Cisco, both of which offer unlimited holidays to employees who need them. Mars Inc. even provides a day of bereavement leave for pet owners who’ve lost a furry friend, which is very sweet of them. 

If you’re unsure about how much bereavement leave to expect, it’s well worth checking out your employment contract – you might be pleasantly surprised. 

Is Bereavement Leave Paid?

Apologies for sounding like a broken record but, again, it depends. Federal laws don’t require companies to offer wages unless employees are protected by a union contract. The good news is that most companies are well aware of the ways grief can wreak havoc with your life, at least in the short term. As such, the percentage of businesses offering paid bereavement leave currently stands at almost 90% among those surveyed by SHRM. 

If you’re unsure about your employer’s policies surrounding bereavement, chances are you’ll be granted at least a few days of leave. If you’re struggling with you need more time off to look after your mental health, your employer may be willing to offer you some extra days of unpaid leave.  

What Family Members Qualify for Bereavement Leave?

You guessed it – it depends! Only the most heartless employers are likely to refuse bereavement leave for the loss of a spouse, child, or parent. Unsurprisingly, most people take the maximum amount of paid leave if close family members pass away. However, things may start to get a little hazier when the immediate family isn’t involved. 

According to the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans, most businesses offer one day of bereavement leave to attend the funeral of a friend or extended family member. As you’re probably all too aware, however, grief hits people in different ways, and your employer may be willing to make exceptions. 

How to Ask for Bereavement Leave

Asking for bereavement leave can feel overwhelming, awkward, and emotional. Rest assured, however, that the vast majority of employers will respond with empathy and kindness. 

If you’re wondering where to start, here’s a step-by-step guide to making the process as painless as possible:

  1. Review your company’s absence policies: You should have access to relevant bereavement leave policies in your employee handbook. As soon as you understand the terms of your contract, you can start to make arrangements. 
  2. Determine how much time you need and assess your options: Say, for example, your organization only offers unpaid bereavement leave. If you’d prefer to be paid for your time off, you could ask to use your paid vacation time instead. You may also wish to mix and match your options, using a combination of personal days, vacation time, and sick leave.
  3. Write a written request for bereavement: Here comes the tricky part. After discussing your situation with your supervisor or member of HR, you need to put your request in writing. Don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be a work of art. Just make sure it’s polite and direct.

Sample Bereavement Leave Email 

Dear [Manager’s Name],

I am writing to request a four-day leave of absence following a recent bereavement, starting Tuesday, May 5 and ending Friday, May 10. As you may know, my sister passed away last night in [location].

I am able and willing to make any necessary preparations to help the team cover my responsibilities during my absence, within reason, and will not need to use any additional vacation days. Many thanks for your understanding during this difficult time.

Best wishes,

[Your name]

Relevant Evidence and Documentation

Be prepared to provide evidence of your loss, such as travel documents or obituaries. This process may seem a little galling when you’re experiencing loss, but rest assured it’s typically just a formality. 

Once your request has been approved, you can sit back and spend time with your family. Grieving is a natural part of life most of us are bound to experience at some point – look after yourself and forget about work for a few days!


  • Elena Prokopets

    Elena runs content operations at Freesumes since 2017. She works closely with copywriters, designers, and invited career experts to ensure that all content meets our highest editorial standards. Up to date, she wrote over 200 career-related pieces around resume writing, career advice... more

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