A death in the family or among your closest friends can be sudden and often totally out of the blue. Funerals, although challenging to organize for the bereaved, can happen very quickly and often without a great deal of notice.
What’s more, they often coincide with the working day which leaves many of us with a tricky situation to overcome.
Although death is a daily occurrence in the USA there are few legal requirements for an employer to grant bereavement leave. Occasionally bosses will refuse these requests. When unsure, refer to your company documentation for rules on attending funerals. Even with no rules, some bosses may still grant permission.
If you are fearful that your current employer won’t allow you to take time off or they are being difficult about it, please read the rest of this article. I’m sure that the answer you are looking for will be found in the following paragraphs.
How do you get a day off to attend a funeral?
As with many things in business timing and clarity are key when it comes to getting time off to attend a funeral. You need to inform your boss as soon as you are able of your intended absence and be honest about why you need time off.
Most funerals tend to happen during the working week with many families trying to hold it as close to the weekend as possible. Notice will be short, but most funerals happen within weeks of a death, so this gives you an opportunity to warn your employer sooner.
In order to be successful in getting a day off to attend a funeral, you need to tell your boss a few key details.
Relationship with the deceased
If we are talking about a death in your immediate family, then the connection will be clearer and more easily understood. Wanting to attend the funeral of a parent. sibling, aunt or any other close family won’t be questioned too much by the average person.
However, if the deceased wasn’t a family member but a friend or teacher, you need to make it clear why it is so important for you to attend. It isn’t necessary to go into a lot of personal detail, but be explicit in why this person was important to you.
Boss, I want to attend the funeral of a former teacher. Mr. Smith actually mentored me in high school and he’s the reason I got into college. I’d really like to take a day to say goodbye.
Just be clear and confident in your reasons for wanting to take a day off. Non-family funerals may be harder to justify if dealing with a picky boss, so make sure you have your arguments clearly laid out before you start the conversation.
When the funeral is being held
As soon as you know, you should let your boss know when the funeral is taking place. Although this could be as little as a week’s notice, it’s still time for your employer and the rest of your team to plan around your absence.
Try to be practical about how much time you need off. Don’t promise to come in for the morning or afternoon of the day when the funeral is being held, because you’ll likely be delayed somehow. Also, if travelling out of town, consider the fact that you may have a delay getting to or returning to the funeral.
Who will cover your shift
In many jobs missing one day because of a funeral won’t have a huge impact. You can either catch up with your work later, prepare tasks for your absence in advance, or both.
However, when you do shift work, as a server, for example, you may need to be replaced for that particular day. Often, it’s best to come to your boss with a solution to a problem rather than just the solition alone. Finding a replacement beforehand is going to be helpful.
You know your company culture and policies best, so never take action without running it by your boss first. this being said, they are more likely to say yes to your request if you’ve done the legwork for them.
Ongoing bereavement needs
When talking to the boss about the actual day of the funeral, you may also want to bring up the topic of bereavement in general. If you were particularly close to the deceased, you may be justified in asking more time off.
If you weren’t extremely close or the death was expected, you may actually be better able to deal with the grieve and continue to work fairly normally.
Depending on your case, it’s best to discuss this with your boss as soon as possible so that plans and compromises can be made.
How do you tell your boss about bereavement?
Grief and loss can be incredibly personal things and most American workplaces try to keep professional and personal lives separate. Unfortunately, sometimes we have to let our employer into our personal lives but we can do it in a professional manner.
Check your company policies – Have a look at your contract and any other official documentation you have for your company. If you don’t have any policies or procedures in place concerning bereavement it’s best to know this before talking to your employer.
Inform your boss as soon as you can – Set up a time to meet with your boss or HR representative face to face or send an email. You don’t have to go into details, but you can inform them that a death has occurred and perhaps indicate whether it was an unexpected passing or not. Also, let your boss know if you want this information to be confidential or not.
Discuss your requirements for leave – As soon as you can, tell your boss when and how many days you need to take off. Be realistic about your needs as it would be worse to be absent without permission (due to delays or stronger emotions) than to ask for more time upfront.
Inform co-workers – If applicable, tell your co-workers about your loss and how this will affect their working day. Get cover for shifts and projects if needed as soon as you can. It’s more than likely that you will have to reciprocate at some point, so don’t feel bad about asking them to do this.
Make it official – If you’ve done everything verbally so far, make sure you send an email to your boss or HR department confirming your absence. If your company doesn’t really operate this way, perhaps you work in a small restaurant or something, get a witness to be present when getting a verbal confirmation.
Are companies legally required to give you bereavement leave?
There are no current federal laws in the USA which force companies to offer bereavement leave to their employees. Also, no state other than Oregon currently enforces bereavement leave for any size company. Many unions and companies themselves have set up policies for bereavement, but they are by no means legally required.
So, this means that most companies aren’t legally required to give you bereavement leave unless they have written this into their contract. Many companies do actually do this, Facebook is a good example, so you should always check your documentation to be sure.
The only state which currently requires companies to legally have this benefit is Oregon. Any company with more than 25 employees must provide up to 2 weeks for qualifying employees in a 12-month period for death amongst close family members.
This means that other connections to the deceased, such as friendship, may not be covered under such policies and each death doesn’t warrant 2 weeks of leave on its own.
Can an employer fire you for going to a funeral?
As there is currently no legal requirement for most US companies to give you time off for a funeral, so absence without permission could be grounds for firing. If written permission has been given, then the termination of a contract may be illegal. Without clear bereavement policies, any personal needs will be superseded by the contact agreed upon.
The fact of the matter is that in the USA it is far easier to be fired from a job than in almost any other country. This is because many employers and companies operate under the “at will” principle.
This means that an employer can fire any employer at any time for any reason which isn’t stated as illegal in law (discrimination against race, gender, creed, etc.). However, most employers do need to operate under the ‘good cause’ principle too.
A ‘good cause’ is just what it says on the tin, a good reason for firing the person. This can range from repeated poor performance, excessive tardiness or absence, and even violent behavior.
So, it’s entirely possible that an employer may fire you for going to a funeral if you haven’t got express permission from them first. You would of course have to consult with a trained legal professional to consult with on your personal case.
What is likely to be illegal is if an employer gives you permission to be absent and then fires you for not coming to work. Again, you need to consult with a lawyer if this has happened to you to be sure of the legality of the situation.
Can work refuse time off for a funeral?
Companies can and often do refuse their employee’s requests to take time off for a funeral. With no federal and little state law forcing businesses to grant bereavement leave the decision will depend on company culture and often individual discretion. Paid leave to attend a funeral is not a common policy either.
Unless you have a contract saying otherwise, you are likely only going to get your request for time off granted due to compassion. Most people can understand and empathize with someone who has just lost a close friend or relative.
Nevertheless, business often has to come first so you should expect bereavement to be a top priority for some employers. You can only try to help the decision-making process by being clear and punctual with your request for time off.
Will you get paid when taking time off for a funeral?
Most companies, except some in Oregon, are not legally required to give their staff time off to attend a funeral let alone paid leave. Taking a day off for a funeral and any other extended time for grief will usually be unpaid. Individual companies do address this in their own policies however and offer some form of paid leave.
Generally, unless you work in a fairly large and prominent company in the US you are likely going to have to forgo a day’s pay to attend a funeral. This is especially true for companies where the staff is paid an hourly wage.
Is a death in the family an excused absence from work?
Legally, the death of a loved one does not give you permission to take a day off work in the USA, certainly not without permission. Many American employees incorrectly think that they can automatically attend a funeral without first clearing it with their boss, this simply isn’t the case.
Most bosses, being fairly human, will of course be understanding and may give you time off. This being said, remember they have a business to run and you need to always clear it with them before you take a day off.
Is attending a funeral sick leave?
Under the provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) bereavement isn’t covered and will not legally qualify you for unpaid leave nor paid leave. This law refers to actual medical issues and the care of living family members. There is no current federal law that forces employers to give leave for attending funerals.
In all honesty, we’ve all called in sick to work when we weren’t actually that ill and you may be tempted to do it for a funeral. However, you would be on very thin ice legally speaking and if found out, you could actually face dismissal for abusing this law.
How do you prove a family member has died?
If you needed to prove that a family member had died in order to get bereavement leave the most effective way would be to produce a death certificate. Often this document is given in duplicate and original copies can be obtained easily as they are legally required for various reasons. If asked, you can contact the coroner or other family members for a copy.
It’s entirely possible that a particularly vindictive or bureaucratic boss will ask you to prove the death of a family member, though it would be in poor taste. If you need to prove the passing of someone, it’s actually easier to get a copy of a death certificate than you may think.
Whoever is planning the funeral will probably have more than one copy and you are unlikely to need an original to prove the death to a business.
How many days are you allowed off work if a family member dies?
As discussed in this article, currently in the USA very few businesses are legally required to give you time off work. If, however, you have been particularly affected by a death you will need to talk to your HR rep or boss. They may be willing to give you extended leave for you to deal with your bereavement but it is very unlikely that this will be paid or in addition to your vacation day allocation.
Laws can and do change and there are efforts in several states, namely New York, to give some sort of legal right to those who have losted close relatives. However, at the time of writing this efforts have not be successful and we may be waiting a long time before they are.
Do you get time off work if a grandparent dies?
The death of a grandparent doesn’t automatically qualify you for time off work. You will need to ask permission from your boss before you fail to turn up and head off to a funeral.
Usually, people will be fairly understanding and recognize that the loss of a grandparent is heartbreaking for most of us. That being said, whether you actually get a day off to attend a funeral will be largely down to your boss and company policies.