What is Bereavement Leave? A Guide for Employees and Employers

What you need to know about taking leave when you’ve lost someone

Avatar of null

Liz Eddy

Managing the day-to-day after a loss can be extremely challenging. Not only are there difficult logistics when it comes to preparing a memorial service, but you will likely be feeling many mixed and complex emotions that require attention and respect, as well as the support of friends and loved ones. 

That is why many people will take a bereavement leave after the loss of a close family member. Bereavement leave is the opportunity to take time away from your place of work so you can focus on taking care of yourself and your family and making any preparations that are necessary for a memorial service. 

Here at Lantern, we’re dedicated to providing the resources and information that can help you and your family during the end-of-life journey and memorial preparation. The type of bereavement leave options can vary depending on your employer and your state, but here are a few important things you’ll want to keep in mind about requesting and taking bereavement leave. 

What is Bereavement Leave? 

Bereavement leave is typically offered after the loss of a close family member. It is a period of a few days or more where you are able to focus on planning a memorial service and holding one to honor the deceased. It is also a chance to spend time with your support system, so you can mourn and grieve your loss without the distraction of work responsibilities. 

At the moment, there is no federal standard for bereavement leave, and Oregon and Illinois are currently the only states to require any kind of mandatory bereavement leave. When it comes to getting the bereavement leave and time away from work that you deserve, it’s important to know the ins and outs of bereavement leave, including what legal protections you can expect and how to request it. 

Guide for Employees

Managing grief is challenging enough without having to deal with the process of figuring out how to request bereavement leave and how to take time away from the office for yourself and your family. When navigating bereavement leave requests, here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. 

How Should I Ask for Bereavement Leave?  

You’ll want to ask for bereavement leave as early as possible, so if you’re on the end-of-life journey with a family member, it’s a good idea to put in a request. You can put in your request via official letter, in which you state your request for time off, how many days you would like, and your plan for any work responsibilities. Depending on the relationship you have with your employer, you may ask in person or over the phone, as well, which can give you a chance to negotiate your needs. 

How Should I Prepare for Leave?

When you take time off of work following a loss, you should be able to focus on spending time with loved ones and making any necessary preparations. To that end, you will want to clear your desk to the extent that is possible. That may mean putting existing projects on hold or pushing the deadline to a later date, or you may want to speak with a co-worker you can trust about being a point of communication for your projects while you are away. 

What Relationships Qualify For Bereavement Leave? 

Bereavement leave varies on employer and state, but it is traditionally limited to close family members. That usually means partner, children, sibling, parent, or grandparent. That said, if you lose a close family friend or a more distant family member with whom you share a close relationship, you may still be eligible for bereavement leave, so it’s worth it to ask for time off. 

What to Expect? 

Most bereavement leaves last around three days, though some can go up to 20 days depending on your employer. You may want to contribute to your time off from saved days or sick days to ensure you get enough time for your needs. Some bereavement leave is paid time off, and some is not, and how much work will be expected of you while you are away depends upon your specific employer.  

Can I Negotiate Bereavement Leave? 

If a company already has a bereavement policy, you likely won’t be able to request much more time off, but it’s still a good idea to ask. A negotiation might allow for paid time off rather than unpaid, fewer remote work responsibilities, or the addition of sick days or vacation days. 

What if There is No Policy?

If there is no time off built into the company’s policy, then it’s worth it to try to negotiate or ask for their options. After negotiations, if there is still no offered time, you may wish to take sick days or paid time off to ensure you are able to make proper arrangements and take time with loved ones. Be sure to also review any state or federal protections available to you. 

What Do I Do On My Time Off?  

The first few days after a loss can be the most challenging, both because you are mourning and because there are well-wishers and memorial responsibilities to manage, which can be very emotional. During your bereavement leave, you will want to take time to both plan a service and to navigate your loss with the support of friends and family or a grief professional. Your co-workers and employer should be able to manage your workload for a few days while you are away. 

Guide for Employers 

Employees aren’t the only ones who have to navigate bereavement leave with care. Here are a few things that employers will want to keep in mind when providing leave and offering condolences. 

Is Bereavement Leave Legally Required? 

While bereavement leave isn’t legally required, except in the states of Oregon and Illinois, it’s an excellent way to support your employees after a loss. It’s important for people to feel like they are supported and cared for during difficult periods like loss, which is why you’ll want to consider adding the policy if it doesn’t currently exist. If you don’t have a policy for bereavement leave and the issue arises before you are able to add one, you can offer paid time off for your employees so they are able to make necessary arrangements and spend time with family during difficult days. Lantern is available to help employers craft their bereavement leave policy, learn more about our employer offerings here

Do I Need Proof? 

It’s not unusual to ask for proof of loss during a bereavement request, though you’ll want to use discretion and care when navigating the topic. Employers often ask for proof in the form of an obituary or funeral announcement, just to ensure that the employee is taking bereavement leave for the appropriate reasons and not taking advantage of the policy. Though, at Lantern, we do not believe this requirement to be necessary. 

What Should I Do When My Employee Comes Back? 

Mourning doesn’t end in a few days. After a person has died, it’s important to be patient and forgiving of your employee’s needs once they return to the office and to avoid giving them any unnecessary work while they are away on leave. Take your employee’s lead on how to navigate the loss. They may want to discuss their loved one or request a reduced workload, or they may wish to return to things as usual. 

It’s important to put them at ease and do your best to make them feel supported during their period of loss. You may want to consider sending a gift or donation from the company, so your employee knows that you are thinking of them. 


Bereavement leave is an essential tool in navigating life after loss, but there are no hard and fast rules as to how it should be requested or taken. That’s why you’ll want to brush up on what bereavement leave entails in your state and what the policy looks like at your specific company, so you know your legal rights and what options you have when requesting bereavement leave. 

It is traditionally taken for a few days after the death of a close family member, so you can focus on planning memorial arrangements and managing the days immediately after loss. That said, a few days is rarely enough time. Employers should add bereavement leave to their policy to ensure that your employees feel heard and supported during periods of grief, as well as sharing flowers or donations after an employee has suffered a loss. 

Categories: Supporting Someone Who's Grieving, Grief in the Workplace, Healthcare and Benefits, COVID 19

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.