It is often said that death is inevitable, but that doesn’t make its occurrence less painful.  In Connecticut, we’ve all been touched by the senseless tragedy in Cheshire involving the Petit Family.  But on a daily basis, employees experiences losses of a family member or friend that may be less sensational, but just as noteworthy.  The question remains: How should an employer respond to a death in the employee’s family? One article suggests that there are four items that an employer can focus on when an employee experiences the loss of a loved one:

  • Ensuring that bereavement policies are established;
  • Helping the grieving worker communicate with colleagues;
  • Helping co-workers express their sympathy;
  • Helping the bereaved employee and his or her supervisor deal with any lingering productivity issues

(Hat Tip: HR Magazine, September 2003.)

Thus, for employers, having a well-drafted bereavement leave is crucial to ensuring that the employer is not seen as a thorn in the employee’s side during his or her time of grief.

Usually, for immediate family members, employees are allowed three days off with pay, and no pay for any additional time, unless employees arrange to use personal days or vacation time. Interestingly, a SHRM 2004 Benefits Survey showed that 90 percent of respondents offer paid bereavement leave.

Defining "immediate family member" helps in the successful implementation of this policy. Immediate family members are typically defined as "an employee’s spouse, parents, stepparents, siblings, children, stepchildren, grandparent, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, or grandchild."

With the recent passage of laws regarding same-sex civil unions in Connecticut, many employers have also add "domestic partner" or "civil union spouse" as part of this definition.

Recent tragedies like the one in Cheshire demonstrate how random and unexpected some deaths can be. A well-drafted policy addressing bereavement leaves now can free up employers to assist its employees, rather than figure out how much time the employee should be allowed off.