It’s Time to Rethink Company Bereavement Insurance policies
While many organizations are rushing to reconsider guidelines for parental leave, wellness benefits, and expanding remote work guidelines after this pandemic, bereavement guidelines likely weren’t high on many lists. Perhaps this is because many of us feel uncomfortable about accepting death, grief, and loss in the workplace. However, this is the right time to reconsider the funeral leave. First, give people more time to process their emotions and manage funerals and finances. Expand what your organization defines as family to include close friends and even unborn babies in the event of miscarriages. Do not ask for proof of death. Offer grief counseling to those who want it. And finally, you take the lead in determining their workload and pace upon their return.
Kristian Bell / Getty Images
Valentine’s Day 2017 was one of the most devastating days of my life. Without warning, without any signs, without notice, my father died. More than three years later, I remember every detail of my mother’s desperate phone call to tell me when she couldn’t find my father. I remember climbing to the car with my husband and our then two- and four-year-old children, the long drive from New York to Massachusetts, stuck in a traffic jam, my daughter vomited over and over again and then went up the garage stairs House very late in the evening, praying that my father would be alive at home, waiting for us. He was not.
The following days seemed like a nightmare that we couldn’t wake up from. Although fortunately my parents’ finances were in good shape, we had a long list of tasks: choosing a coffin, arranging the cremation, choosing a funeral suit for my father, rejecting or accepting an autopsy, canceling my father’s cell phone and social security benefits , Transferring invoices in my mother’s name, writing an obituary. Then there was the task of telling family and friends for a lifetime that every time we talked we would relive the trauma of his death.
I had my husband call my manager’s assistant to let my company know that I would not be there. I took the paid time off I needed and felt supported by my superiors and my team. I will never forget how much support I received from my work group. Unfortunately, I know this is not everyone’s experience.
While many organizations are rushing to reconsider guidelines for parental leave, wellness benefits, and expanding our world of remote working beyond this pandemic, bereavement guidelines likely weren’t high on many lists. Perhaps this is because many of us feel uncomfortable about accepting death, grief, and loss in the workplace.
However, this is the right time to start thinking about a funeral leave. How can organizations better help grieving employees? There are five things to keep in mind:
Free up more time. According to research by the Society for Personnel Management (SHRM), 88% of companies offer paid bereavement leave. However, these periods typically range from three days to the more generous five. There are no federal laws requiring employers to provide employees with paid or unpaid time off after the death of a loved one. In fact, Oregon is the only state in the United States to require it due to legislation passed in 2014.
With all the chores associated with organizing and / or traveling to a funeral, sorting out finances, and grieving for your own loss, a few days of the demands of our jobs are not enough. Organizations need to get more paid vacation. Facebook raised the bar in 2017 when it doubled its bereavement leave to 20 days paid after losing an immediate family member and 10 days for an extended family member. It was no coincidence that COO Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband in 2015 and wrote a book, Option B, about the experience.
Also, keep in mind that grief, or grief, comes in stages. People may want to take time off when they need it, maybe 10 days now and 10 days later for a belated memorial service or trip, or to celebrate a date that is important to the lost person.
Broaden the definition of family. Many bereavement leave guidelines distinguish between immediate and extended family members. The best are flexible and cover the loss of a loved one, including a partner, child, parent, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, and neighbors.
Miscarriages should also be included. Some companies like Uber and Reddit have taken this step. According to the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 29% of women experience PSTD, 24% experience anxiety, and 11% experience moderate to severe depression after a miscarriage. Bereavement leave is an opportunity for organizations to assist people with all types of loss.
Do not ask for proof of death. Do not ask for a death certificate, obituary, or letter from a funeral home or hospital. This is awkward, unnecessary, and implies bad intent on the part of someone asking for a vacation. The likelihood that someone will lie about the death of a loved one to abuse their company’s funeral leave policy is very slim. Please do not use this as a moment to create distrust and conflict with your employees. Believe the staff when they say they are grieving, and give them the space and time they need.
Offer grief counseling. Many organizations already offer mental health support to their employees. This is the time to remind people that this is available. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are designed to help people with problems that can affect their job performance and ultimately their well-being. Most EAPs include some form of assessment and advice. Some organizations also provide grief counseling grants that staff select themselves. If your company doesn’t offer these benefits, encourage HR to consider them.
Take the lead of the individual. When I came back to work after my father’s death, I wanted to dive into existing projects and new initiatives. I needed to feel useful and find a new normal of what life after dad would be. Other people may need less work, a slower pace, or other chores even after they return from vacation. Please do not make decisions for the bereaved. If they want to do more work, give it to them. If they don’t want to take their full grief time off, don’t insist. If they want to talk about the loss, listen. If not, respect their wishes. And when they need time to recover, support them.
These are the moments that are important in a workplace. Six months after a pandemic that killed more than a million people worldwide, organizations need to rethink bereavement leave and bereavement services. How we show ourselves to our employees in the most painful and traumatic phases of their lives, they will never forget.