Tips to Evaluating Your Bereavement Policy

Like so many of you last week, I was so saddened to hear about Sheryl Sandberg’s sudden loss of her husband, David Goldberg. She returned to work this week 10 days after he passed away to a modified work schedule.  Sometimes its hard not to think about what “you” might do in that situation — but for me, that quickly turns to, how do I help employees who might be in that situation. Its not fun stuff to think about — but having defined policies and practices can help you and your employees when the unexpected happens.

Tips on Evaluating Your Bereavement Policy

Look at your audience

Now a days, families look different –take a look at who is included in your bereavement policies. Make your call as to if you want to explicitly spell out who is covered under the bereavement policy or if you have some flexibility with it. Family is different to different people, I personally prefer policies that recognize that.

Conduct research on industry-specific policies

I find that there is a lot of differences between industries and how much time is offered for bereavement leave — do your research to find out what is best for your employee and your business. For this reason, I don’t recommend looking at your bereavement policies and programs in a vacuum — look at them alongside your leave programs , time off programs, and any flexible work programs that you may have and ensure that they work together and complement each other. People grieve in different ways so its important that your programs together support that range of grief for people.

Review policies for documentation requirements

I recommend that you nix them (seriously, how awkward is it to gather proof that a loved has died, let alone be the HR person or manager who has to ask for it. Have some trust for your employees and if there are other issues pertaining to performance of the employee address those items separately) – but ultimately, do what’s right for you and your business.  If you are going to require documentation, have clear guidelines on what you’ll accept, when its due and how to turn it  (and to whom).

Review support programs, tie in when able

Do you have programs that help with funeral preparations or an EAP (employee assistance program)? Are they easily accessible by employees and well communicated? If not, think about if these are programs you should evaluate and consider adding. Work with your fellow HR team members and an employee focus group to see if this might be a value added benefit  to your company.

Create a policy of compassion

Create policies of compassion –To support people during a really dark and sad time of life and not to punish people who you think might take advantage of the policy. Might you get someone who is abused the system, maybe, but I don’t like that trade-off of offering people a really useful benefit. Handle the people who abuse the system separately, and don’t let that take away from those who need support during the death of a loved one.  Ask yourself, how would you want to be treated if in a similar situation?

Help Facilitate The Conversation

No one really wants to think about the unexpected happening — but the truth is, its better if you’ve done some preparation for it.  Do you have programs that offer items that will help with will preparation, estate planning, other similar services? Consider making them part of your benefits and/or wellness fairs. We are quick to offer incentives to our employees in other areas of health and wellness — how about adding in some of these other areas as well? Its not “fun” to talk about, but as HR professionals we have an opportunity to help inform our employees, offer some education, and maybe even help move to action.

What are your thoughts on bereavement policies and programs?

Tips on Evaluating Your Bereavement Policy
Consejos para evaluar su política de duelo
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Andrea Devers

Andrea is an HR technologist and change management expert. She’s has built her career in global HR Compliance, HR process improvement, and shared services across all functions of HR. Connect with Andrea.

Reader Interactions


  1. Noma Bruton says

    Andrea, years after a traumatic workplace suicide, an employee told me that he’d felt at the time, “It was ok to be sad for about a week and then it was ‘get back to work now'”. How sad. I’m sure that was not the intention of management. Your article brings this to the forefront. Not everyone grieves in the same way or in the same timeframe.


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