Bereavement leave can be a messy business. You need it when emotions are high and things need to happen quickly. To make it worse, there’s no consistent policy governing bereavement leave. It can feel like no-man’s-land. And you may have no one to guide you through it. To get bereavement leave, think about what you need. Do you have to attend a funeral a few miles away? Or are you in charge of organizing the whole service?
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When someone close to you passes away, you need bereavement leave. Unlike vacations and paid time off (PTO), bereavement leave can’t be planned for. Unfortunately, it isn’t the easiest thing to navigate. Employee handbooks are a daunting resource at the best of times. It can be hard to know if your company even offers bereavement leave, let alone what the policy details are. It’s also possible that your employer doesn’t offer any bereavement leave.
Policies for bereavement leave vary by state and company. With such a wild, shifting landscape, how can you figure it out?
Is Bereavement Leave Mandatory in Texas?
Bereavement leave isn’t mandatory in Texas. Federal and state laws don’t regulate the leave process. And in most states laws that protect workers’ rights don’t cover bereavement leave.
Federal laws on bereavement leave
When it comes to bereavement leave, the federal government hasn’t weighed in. Decades of activism over workers’ rights produced the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FSLA dictates proper conduct in many workplace situations. This act covers child labor, minimum wages, overtime pay, record keeping, and more.
Bereavement leave isn’t included in federally regulated workers’ rights. Since the federal government hasn’t weighed in, the states are responsible for creating their own policies. But, so far, only three states have done that, so employers determine bereavement leave details.
Texas laws on bereavement leave
Most states have made their own decisions on bereavement leave. In most cases, though, their decision is simple: inertia. By choosing not to act, they’ve handed down a ruling already. This includes Texas: employers are not required to provide bereavement leave in Texas. Some states, though, have created regulations for bereavement leave.
Oregon, Illinois, and Maine are the only states that have clear laws regarding bereavement leave. In Illinois, only parents who have lost a child are entitled to bereavement leave. In Maine, bereavement leave only applies to families of active duty military. In each state, employers are not required to pay you for bereavement leave. If you want to be paid for your time on leave, you’ll need to use accrued paid time off (PTO).
Only certain employees enjoy these policies, though. For instance, some part-time and contract workers are not eligible for bereavement leave. Some companies and laws only provide leave for full-time employees. But others may offer these benefits to all workers.
Even if you’re a full-time worker, caveats still apply. Many employers institute a probation period after hiring a new employee. After this time, you may be eligible for insurance and other benefits. Bereavement leave may count as a benefit. If you’re still on probation, whether it lasts sixty or ninety days, check and see what applies to you. If you’re still in your probationary period, be prepared to discuss your situation with your employer and take a different type of leave, if possible.
Getting Bereavement Leave Through Your Employer
In today’s shifting work landscape, employee benefit packages are very diverse. Employers are trying to lure top talent with exciting perks. As a benefit, bereavement leave is still rare. All employers, though, have an established leave policy. Whether it’s paid or unpaid time off, expectations are set. You know how much time you can take away from the office.
Read over your offer letter or employee handbook. It might mention bereavement leave. As a part of a ‘time off’ policy, it may go under the same heading as sick leave or family leave. If it’s not, there’s a very good chance that bereavement leave isn’t included.
If that’s the case, you may have to take time out of your vacation days. If you’ve accrued paid time off, this is a simple solution. Decide how much you want to use and submit a request. The only potential landmine is short notice. If you don’t have much paid time off or have used it already, you’ll likely have to take time off unpaid.
Request your leave with either your supervisor or human resources. It depends on the size of the company. If your company is small, a verbal request to your boss may be enough. If you work at a large company, human resources will have the final say.
You can schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss your situation and needs. After they’ve approved your request, submit it in writing to human resources. Copy your boss on the request. That way, you’ve followed the appropriate channels for requesting emergency time off.
Who typically qualifies as immediate family
Typically, the list created by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is used to define immediate family. Happily, their list is very inclusive. It includes children, stepchildren, siblings, parents, and step-parents (including in-laws).
The list goes on to include grandparents, foster children, and spouses. The federal definition of spouse includes domestic and same-sex partners.
Average length of bereavement leave
In a standard situation, bereavement leave lasts between three and five business days. At most, you’re likely to get a week off. If you’re traveling or are responsible for someone’s affairs this isn't enough.
If necessary, determine how much leave you need to take. If it’s more than five days be prepared to take unpaid leave. Try to consider your workload, finances, and employer expectations when making your plan. As difficult as it may be, thinking through all the details can help you make a plan.
Paid vs. unpaid bereavement
If your employer does provide paid bereavement leave, take advantage of it! If not, unpaid bereavement leave may be a separate category.
If it’s separate from unpaid leave, this may be helpful for you. That way, the purpose of your leave is categorized, instead of being lumped in with general unpaid days off.
Some employers need proof when you return from bereavement leave. Unfortunately, there have been cases of employees using bereavement leave for vacations. Find out what proof is required when you return to work.
Funeral handouts, obituaries, or death notices are all common options. Your supervisor may not bring it up when you request leave. Even if they don’t, collect physical evidence anyway so you can give it to your employer when you return. Being above-board will help ease the process—and it can help build goodwill should you need to take leave again.
Making It Work
Bereavement leave is convenient for no one—you have to scramble to make arrangements during a tragic time. Unfortunately, though, bereavement leave is a necessary part of anyone’s life. If you live in Texas, you'll have to arrange the time off between you and your employer.
If you're a Texas resident and ready to start preparing your own end-of-life planning documents, Cake has Advance Care Planning forms you can download. To help ease your planning, we have all the documents you need in one place.
Disclaimer: The information posted on this site is provided solely for informational and educational purposes and is not legal advice or tax advice. Contact an appropriate professional licensed in your jurisdiction for advice specific to your legal or tax situation.
- “Funeral Leave.” U.S. Department of Labor, 12 November 2019, https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/funeral-leave
- “Vacation, Sick, and Parental Leave Policies.” Texas Workforce Commission, 12 November 2019, https://twc.texas.gov/news/efte/vacation_sick_and_parental_leave_policies.html