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Human Resource (HR)

Making bereavement leave human

Category: General HR

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kimberlyrodenGrab your company’s Employee Handbook and take a look at the Bereavement Leave policy. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

It probably starts out by stating how the organization feels it’s important to recognize the need for employees to take time off in the event of the death of a family member. So far so good, right?

Then does it go on to say exactly how much paid leave can be used for the death of a family member based the employee’s relationship with them? For instance, “Employees will receive [insert number] days for an immediate family member and [insert number] days for another type of relative or family member”. As you read on you’ll learn how the company defines family members.

Perhaps the policy includes a list of relatives as an example to define “immediate” family and another list for “other” family members. For instance, an immediate family member might include: “spouse or significant other, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, stepparents and siblings, and so on.” Another relative not considered immediate family might be listed as: “aunt, uncle, cousin, other relative, step-relative, and so on”.

Here’s where my struggle lies. What about the employee who was raised by their aunt — who was like a mother to him or her? Not only should the employee have time to grieve but they might also be responsible for making the final arrangements for their beloved aunt.

What about the relative who lived out of town? If it’s not an immediate family member, the employee may only get 1 day of leave for the funeral. Sure there are companies that allow employees to use other paid time off (vacation, personal days, etc.) to supplement time away from work but do we really have to take it to the point of assembling a calendar time off grid so that payroll doesn't get confused? What about the employee who doesn't have enough paid time off to use as a supplement to the time allowed?

I recognize the need for guidelines for paid time off but this is an issue of being human. I don’t agree with companies mandating how much paid time an employee should receive for the death of a family member.

Let’s allow employees to work through a difficult and unexpected time in the least stressful way possible. Why can’t we remove policies like these and allow the time off to be handled between the employee and his or her manager?

Bring it.




Kimberly Roden Patterson is the founder of Unconventional HR.  An HR pro turned consultant, she has 25 years of progressive experience as a strategic HR and business leader in a variety of industries.  Her hands-on and innovative approach allows her to create and deliver HR solutions to meet business challenges and needs by managing human capital, talent acquisition and technology.  Kimberly invites you to connect with her on Twitter  or




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Growth in women's share of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations declined to 27% in 2011from a high of 34% in 1990. While women make up nearly half of the workforce, they were 26% of the STEM workforce in 2011.

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