To President Biden, It’s Time for National Bereavement Leave

Here's how you can support a national bereavement leave policy

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Liz Eddy

There are currently 5 million+ bereaved families in the US due to COVID-19, other illness, suicide, the opioid epidemic, hate crimes, gun violence, and beyond. 

It takes, on average, 500 hours to navigate the logistics of funeral planning and estates after a death. And that doesn’t reflect the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual toll of grief. In the face of ~500 hours of planning, most employees will receive a total of 72 hours of bereavement leave, if they get anything at all.  How much time someone will get is determined by individual employers and is often not a formal policy, but a case-by-case decision.

There are no legal protections (outside of a few narrow exceptions) following the death of a loved one. Read: millions of people have lost loved ones this year with no legal right to take leave.

Luckily, there is something we can do. The Biden Administration is currently setting their legislative agenda and there is a window where job protections for bereavement could be included. It's certainly not a complete solution, but it's a start.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Read and share our open letter to President Biden below. 
  • Sign the petition to establish the first-ever Office of Bereavement care in the White House led by Evermore, a 501c3 advocating for bereaved families.

See the most up to date list of signatures here. Our letter:

April 16, 2021

Dear Mr. President,

Thank you for your service and leadership to our country.

On behalf of bereaved families throughout America, we request you safeguard American families by including bereavement leave as part of your agenda to expand family leave benefits and protections.

As the nation confronts concurrent mortality tragedies, employment protection for the newly bereaved has never been more important. Bereavement leave is job protection and millions of Americans who have lost a loved one have no legal right to take leave, with narrow exceptions in two states and two localities. Currently, bereavement is not acceptable grounds for taking unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, except for miscarriage or stillbirth losses or when a solider is killed in action. This chasm not only leaves millions of Americans at risk for losing their job, but also can be a precipitating event that can send an individual or family into poverty, homelessness and other dire outcomes that can alter a person’s life trajectory permanently.

Job protections for the newly bereaved may include the following:

  • Leave: Ten days of unpaid leave following the death of a family member or loved one.
  • Age of a child: Define the age of a child up to age 26 bringing age parity with existing health care and tax law.
  • Definition of a family member or loved one: While there is no one standard, proposed or passed state laws define a family member or loved one as: (1) Spouses, domestic partners, and both different-sex and same-sex significant others: or (2) Any other family member within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity: or (3) A member of the covered employee’s household, including a minor’s parents, regardless of the sex or gender of either parent. Most laws liberally define parenthood as legal parents, foster parents, same-sex parent, stepparents, those serving in loco parentis, and other persons operating in caretaker roles.

Make no mistake employment protection is not simply about planning a funeral or grieving. Maintaining family stability and solvency in the short- and long-term can be a challenge, especially when families face housing, food and other insecurities. Further, Jewish and Native American traditions, for example, have cultural and religious requirements or norms that must be carried out within specific timeframes. The threat of losing your job under these conditions is unacceptable.

The unexpected death of a loved one is the most common traumatic experience Americans report; many report their loss as their worst life experience. Today, more than 5 million families have lost a loved one due to COVID-19 in the United States, including an estimated 40,000 newly bereaved children who have lost a parent. Millions more are bereaved from deaths due to overdoses, suicide, mass murder events and other tragedies that never make our nation’s headlines. The impact of bereavement on American lives is both stunning and underappreciated. Consider the following:

  • Bereaved children are at-risk of school failures, juvenile justice incarceration, drug abuse, violent crime involvement, suicide attempts, suicide, and premature death.
  • Bereaved siblings are at-risk of dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, and premature death.
  • Bereaved parents are at heightened risk for depressive symptoms, poorer well-being, less purpose in life, more health complications, marital disruption, psychiatric hospitalization, cancer incidence, dementia, and premature death.
  • Bereaved spouses at risk of depression, post-traumatic stress, prolonged grief and premature death.

Racial inequalities are magnified across the life course as Black Americans are more likely to experience the death of children, spouses, siblings and parents when compared to white Americans. They are three times as likely as white Americans to have two or more family members die by the time they reach the age of 30.[iv]

Bereavement leave is not an academic exercise. Real families are behind these statistics.

Today, families are left to fend for themselves and without any legal protections. Losing a loved one is more than an emotional hardship, it is an urgent threat to their family wellbeing and economic resiliency. If bereavement leave is not considered now, it will be years before Congress will reconsider codifying employment protections into law.

As the nation’s highest office, we ask that you provide job protection to America’s newly bereaved families. No other time in history has this been more urgent.

We look forward to working with you and your administration.


Evermore, Lantern (and 65+ grief and end-of-life organizations)


  1. NCBI
  2. JAMA
  3. Evermore
  4. Modern Loss

Categories: Planning Ahead, Managing a Death, Grief in the Workplace, Grief, Supporting Someone Who's Grieving, Healthcare and Benefits, Talking About Death

Lantern provides guidance and support for navigating life before and after a death.

If you're looking to manage a loss, check out Lantern's after-loss services. Or, if you're looking to prepare your own just-in-case plan, check out Lantern's digital pre-plans.

For more articles on grief, loss, and pre-planning, see all Lantern articles.