Bereavement, leave, employee manual, family, FMLA

If a loved one dies, how much time should you take off? It’s a traumatic time, and it can be difficult to gauge how long you might need (especially if you will be settling the estate). Even so, you should immediately inform your employer so you can arrange to take time off.

Truthfully, there really is no correct answer to this question. But here are a few ideas to get the conversation started:

Read Your Employee Manual

The first step that you should always do—for any employment crises—is consult your employee manual. Most employee manuals will contain a provision that discusses proper procedure in the case of a family emergency or death.

The magic phrase you are looking for is “Bereavement Leave.” Other headings where the relevant policy will be include “Family Emergencies” or “Time Off” or “Bereavement” or “Death” or “Leave.” If the manual is a PDF, you can just search for those words and save yourself the hassle of reading a 50 page document.

Generally, companies will give 2-3 days bereavement leave in the event of a death in the family. (Some companies will even consider the time off as paid.)

As soon as you can, email, or text your supervisor and inform them of the situation. They’ll be understanding. Tell your supervisor that you’ll keep them updated.

Don’t forget, you can always tap into vacation days for extra time, or you can take an unpaid leave of absence if you don’t have enough vacation days.

Family and Medical Leave Act

While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not apply to someone already deceased, if a family member (spouse, son, daughter, or parent) is sick or critically ill, you can take up to 12 weeks of job protected (unpaid) leave. In other words, you have a legal right to that leave if you need it, and your employer can’t fire you for taking it. Generally, in order to take leave under the FMLA, you must:

  1. Work for a company that has at least 50 employees
  2. You’ve worked there at least 12 months
  3. You’ve worked at least 1,250 hours

Always be sure to consult your company’s human resources department or an attorney to determine your eligibility.

How Much Bereavement Leave Is Too Much?

Truthfully, it depends on your relationship with the deceased, it depends on your status within the company, and it depends on your particular employer. For smaller companies, leaving for extended periods of time on short-notice can seriously harm the company’s operations. For larger companies, they may be more flexible.

You’re probably reading this article for a specific number. So, here goes.

Three Days + the Reasonableness Standard

Really it’s a question of reasonableness.

Thus, a good general practice is to start by assuming you’ll take as many days as allowed by the employee manual, and then depending on your situation, you can add or subtract days.

If the employee manual doesn’t have a bereavement leave policy, I’ve always found that there is something magical about the number three. The number three just seems so reasonable. Not too many, not too few.

The formula can be expressed below:

(Employee Manual Number OR 3 days) + Reasonableness = Bereavement Leave

For example, if you need to fly across the country and the death occurs on a Sunday, taking 5 days off (M-F) probably would be reasonable. If the decedent passed away on a Thursday, taking Friday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off (you’ll use Wednesday to return home) probably would be reasonable.

If you live in proximity to the deceased, then taking only three days might be more appropriate.

Also consider your particular employment situation. Can you work remotely if you need to travel? Must you do the job in-person?

Also consider your status within the company. People higher in the career ladder generally get more flexibility in terms of time-off. Ironically, lower paid positions like cashiers generally get less flexibility than professional or executive positions. Supervisors of lower paid workers might view the worker as attempting to avoid work. Of course, this can vary widely from company to company, and supervisor to supervisor.

Also consider how long you have worked for the company. Long-term employees will certainly get more flexibility than if you just joined the company.

All of these factors will help you decide what to add or subtract when you ask your supervisor for time off. If your supervisor has concerns about the length of time, you can explain your particular relationship with the person. Most supervisors will understand.

Bereavement Airfare

You can often get airline discounts if you are needing to travel and there has been a death in the family or death is imminent. Here’s a useful chart that shows specific airline bereavement policies.

Be sure to make a copy of the death certificate, in case the airline (or the employer) needs verification.


In summary, there is no legal right to take bereavement leave, but most employers will have a written policy and will honor that policy.

To determine how much time to take off, consult the employee manual. Work within the assumption of three days, and then calculate what seems to be reasonable in light of the circumstances.

What do you think? How much time did you take off when a loved one died?

Thanks Binh The Nguyen for the great photo via Flickr.