How to Ask Your Employer for Bereavement Leave


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Coping with the passing of an immediate family member or other close loved one is one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through. Even when you think you’re feeling “okay” again, strong emotions can unexpectedly rise up, making basic daily life responsibilities much more challenging than normal.

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For instance, many people struggle to do their jobs after loved ones pass away. They need to step back from work to tend to their emotional needs. Additionally, they might have other responsibilities, such as planning a funeral or helping family members overcome this difficult experience. They may even worry they can’t attend the funeral and also do their job.

Maybe you’ve experienced this. Maybe you will. If so, you might need to ask your employer for bereavement leave. This guide will help you better understand how to ask for bereavement leave properly.

Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, it's tough to handle both the emotional and technical aspects of their unfinished business without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.

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Step 1: Prepare Emotionally

A loved one’s passing or a sudden family emergency can trigger extreme emotional reactions. You’re only human if you experience them.

However, when you’re feeling these emotions, you’ll find that clearly stating your needs to anyone won’t be easy. Thus, if you’re going to request bereavement leave, you should first give yourself time to prepare. You want to be certain you’re in the right frame of mind before making such a request.

Let others help if you’re not entirely sure you’re in the right frame of mind yet. For example, if you’re not sure your letter or email asking for bereavement leave is worded appropriately, consider asking a trusted friend, family member, or coworker to check it.

Just remember, it’s still a good idea to let an employer know you’re coping with a loss sooner rather than later. You may not need to formally request bereavement leave as soon as you hear about a loved one’s death. However, it’s smart to prepare your employer for such a request by letting them know about the situation relatively early.

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Step 2: Know the Policy

Preparing emotionally will help you determine how to ask for bereavement leave in many ways. It will also give you time to address key details that you could easily overlook if you sent your request before ensuring you were emotionally prepared to do so. 

For example, different organizations have different bereavement policies. You’ll feel much more comfortable with how you asked for bereavement leave if you’ve familiarized yourself with your employer’s policy first. On top of that, you may want to cite specific wording from the company’s bereavement leave policy in your letter.

Step 3: Get Specific

As helpful as we hope this blog can be, it is but only a guide. Certain employers will not allot bereavement leave so quickly. You may still face some challenges. 

For instance, most people don’t know exactly how much time it will take them to achieve emotional and mental stability after a loved one dies. It’s entirely understandable if you’re not confident how much bereavement leave you’ll need. That said, you’ll have to make an assumption because your employer will want to know when you’ll be back.

Offering a realistic (and reasonable) timeline becomes much simpler when you consult with others. For example, maybe a coworker had to take bereavement leave in the past. If you believe they’re emotionally prepared to discuss the topic with you, consider asking them how much time they took off.

You can also consult with relevant supervisors and HR representatives to get a better sense of how much time a typical employee spends away from work when mourning a loss.

Establishing a basic timeline will also help you personally. Mourning involves striking a delicate balance. You need to be gentle with yourself and accept that you’re a human facing one of life’s greatest pains, but you also need to take steps to ensure you don’t descend into endless and unhealthy grief. 

By deciding when you’re going to return to work, you’re setting an important emotional goal for yourself. You’re choosing to be “better” by a specific date. Although you probably won’t be completely finished coping with the loss by the time that date arrives, setting it will inspire you to try reaching that goal. This guards against the mental and emotional health dangers associated with excessive grief.

Step 4: Choose Your Method

The specific way you request bereavement leave will depend on the nature of your organization. At some companies, sending a physical letter is the best option, but there are companies where requesting bereavement leave via email is entirely acceptable.

Carefully assess which method you think is best. Regardless, you need to request bereavement leave in some form of writing. You want proper documentation in case someone is reviewing your time off in the future.

It’s also crucial to ensure you know who to contact when asking for bereavement leave. When requesting this type of leave, some companies require contacting department managers as well as their direct supervisors. This is why understanding your company policy on leave is important.

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Step 5: Write the First Draft

It’s always a good idea to write a first draft before sending any sort of official business letter or email. If you’re worried you don’t know how to ask for bereavement leave, it might help to remember that asking for bereavement leave isn’t necessarily that different from asking for vacation time or requesting a transfer to a new department. You should submit a formal business letter/email and follow the process your company’s policies dictate.

You should also write an early draft to ensure the final one you submit doesn’t contain errors or omit important details. For example, if you sent the first draft of your bereavement request letter without checking it, you might later realize you weren’t clear enough when describing the timeline you expect to follow when returning to work. This can lead to a situation in which you don’t have as much time off as you might have wanted.

Write your first draft, and consider asking trusted individuals to check it. It’s possible the first draft will be perfect, and you won’t need to make any changes, but don’t assume so.

Step 6: Make Necessary Changes and Send the Letter

When reviewing your first draft, your goal isn’t merely to ensure the grammar and punctuation are correct. You also need to make sure you’ve included all relevant information thoroughly and clearly. Additionally, you might want to ensure your tone is professional enough for this type of request. It’s easy to overflow with emotion when making these types of requests amid grief.

You might decide the letter needs no edits. You might find there are specific changes you’d like to make to it. Or, you might feel it needs some improvement, but you’re not sure precisely why.

Consider searching the internet for bereavement leave request letter examples if you feel this way. A simple Google search for “how to ask for bereavement leave” will bring up many results. They can help you more thoroughly understand which exact types of edits would improve your bereavement leave request letter.

Once you’re satisfied with every aspect of the letter, you’ve familiarized yourself with your company’s bereavement leave request policies, and you’ve chosen the proper method for submitting a bereavement leave request, all you need to do is send the actual letter or email. Follow up if you don’t hear back from the people you’ve contacted in a reasonable timeframe. When they do get back to you, let them know you got their response.

Hopefully, your employer will accept your request without any caveats. That said, there are instances when employers don’t immediately approve requests for bereavement leave. If yours denies your request or conditions it on certain changes in a manner that conflicts with the organization’s policy, calmly respond by citing the relevant sections of the policy. You may need to contact HR if they still don’t grant the necessary approvals.

Sample Bereavement Leave Email or Letter

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Again, knowing how to ask for bereavement leave becomes easier when you study a few sample letters or emails. The following are two you might refer to when drafting your own request:

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Example one

[Person’s name],

I’m writing to let you know [name who passed away, explain your relationship with them, and describe any other relevant details]. I’m requesting [amount of time off] for bereavement leave.

According to the company’s policy, this should be acceptable, but please let me know if there are any problems, or if you need me to take any additional steps before you can finalize your approval.

Example two

[Person’s name],

I understand this is an inconvenient time for me to take off work when we’re in the middle of the project, but unfortunately [describe the circumstances], so I need to request [amount of time off] for bereavement leave according to the company policy.

Please let me know if this is acceptable. If you approve this request, I can be available through email and phone for [reasonable amount of time, such as three days] to help our team adjust to my absence in any way I can.

How to Ask for Bereavement Leave: Be Responsible to Your Employer and Yourself

Don’t worry if you’re not sure how to ask for bereavement leave. Virtually no one feels this experience is easy. However, it also doesn’t need to be as difficult as you might imagine.

If you're looking for more writing help, read our guides on how to write a professional thank you letter and how to ask for bereavement leave.

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