Time management

Bereavement leave: a guide to policies in the United States and Canada

Discover the ins and outs of bereavement leave policies in the US and Canada, including best practices for supporting employees during times of loss.


Table of contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. What is bereavement leave? 
  3. Bereavement leave in the United States
  4. Bereavement leave in Canada
  5. Comparing bereavement leave in the US and Canada
  6. Best practices for bereavement leave policies
  7. How PurelyHR can help



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Bereavement leave in the United States and Canada




Loss is an inevitable—and sometimes unpredictable—part of life. As an employer, you can do right by your people, who are your most valuable asset. Supporting employees in their time of mourning is integral to fostering a compassionate workplace culture, aiding in their emotional well-being, and, yes, even ensuring their return to productivity. Employees not treated with human consideration in their time of loss do not tend to remain dedicated to their work. You heard it here first. 

Enter bereavement leave. 


What is bereavement leave? 

Generally speaking, bereavement leave refers to a period of time off granted to an employee after the passing of a family member. This period might be paid or unpaid and extend anywhere from a few days to several weeks if the employee needs to make funeral arrangements and/or tend to an estate. Outside of this, companies might also grant shorter funeral leave to an employee so they can attend the memorial services of an individual not covered under the official bereavement policy (i.e., a friend). 

While the specific laws and regulations governing bereavement leave vary depending on which state or province a company is located in, it is always smart to clearly outline your company's leave eligibility in a formal policy. This will ensure that everything is extra clear, consistent, and above board.  

Bereavement policies must always comply with any applicable state, regional, or provincial laws. And remember: as with all company policies, ensuring that employees across the organization are both aware of and have access to the full document is key!  


Bereavement leave in the US

Bereavement leave for United States employers is generally undefined; in other words, there is no federal bereavement leave policy. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment for time off or unpaid time off, even if it's to attend a funeral. 

The good news is that despite a total lack of federal regulations, 90% of US companies offer paid bereavement leave anyway. Why? Because employers instinctively know that not doing so will harm both employees and the business. Still, the average number of days off provided is relatively low (1-5 days). It varies by the relationship of the deceased to the employee. Additionally, some employers, particularly if offering paid leave, are also within their rights to request a death certificate or a published obituary as proof. 

While there are no federal bereavement leave laws, certain state laws have differing regulations on paid and unpaid bereavement leave. When developing a bereavement leave policy, always check local sick and safe leave laws to review the qualifying reasons that dictate leave in your jurisdiction; this is an excellent way to ensure you're staying compliant with all applicable bereavement regulations. 


Bereavement leave in Canada  

Bereavement leave for employers in Canada is somewhat dependent on the region in question. Employment standards legislation in each province and territory sets out the minimum legal requirements that an employer must follow for leaves of all kinds.  

Meanwhile, federal legislation dictates that upon the death of a family member, an employee is entitled to a bereavement leave of up to 10 days. Employees who have completed 3 months of continuous employment with an organization are entitled to the first 3 days paid. If not, they are entitled to an unpaid leave of 10 days. 

As far as evidence goes, there are no hard and fast rules. Still, Ontario's Employment Standards Act (ESA), for instance, states that "an employer may require an employee who takes leave…to provide evidence reasonable in the circumstances that the employee is entitled to the leave." While it's anyone's best guess what "reasonable" means here, factors to consider include:

  • The length of the requested leave.
  • Frequency of the employee's absences.
  • The cost to you as an employer.

If an employee requests a single day off to attend a funeral, their word is likely evidence enough.  


Bereavement leave in the US vs Canada 

Bereavement leave policies in both the US and Canada typically provide employees with a limited amount of paid time off to cope with the loss of a loved one—particularly immediate family members such as spouses, children, and parents. 

In both countries, the specific duration of a bereavement leave varies by company and jurisdiction.  

However, differences do exist. Seemingly parallel to a comparison of parental leave in the two countries, Canada's offering appears more generous about its baseline offering of up to 10 unpaid days, with the possibility of some being paid (though how this is interpreted is largely up to the discretion of employers). Meanwhile, the US doesn't mandate any bereavement leave at all. Nonetheless, as mentioned, 9 out of 10 US companies offer paid bereavement leave anyway—with widely varying policies. While a similar stat is not readily available in Canada, many larger companies and organizations typically include bereavement leave as part of their employee benefits package. 


Bereavement leave best practices 

A generous policy is a relatively inexpensive goodwill offering that can go a long way toward supporting your employees. Think of developing/expanding your bereavement leave policy as a low-cost benefit with a high return. Everybody benefits.  

Here are a few best practices to consider when developing yours: 

  • Offer adequate time: Most employers still offer a few days to mourn a loved one—typically three. Employers have increasingly realized, however, that their employees need more time to grieve properly and attend to necessary arrangements without worrying about financial concerns. 

  • Clearly define who is considered an eligible family member: When it comes to bereavement, avoiding ambiguity and ensuring fairness are key. No one should be confused or surprised by the eligibility criteria wording when mourning a loved one. 

  • Establish a compassionate environment: When you communicate the availability of bereavement leave, offer resources for grief support, and demonstrate flexibility in tough times, your workplace culture blossoms. This translates to a supportive and satisfying environment that is undeniably good for business. 


If you're persuaded of the need to revamp, recreate, or develop an all-new company bereavement policy but could use a little guidance, We've got you.  

PurelyHR's Time-Off module was designed to help companies develop solid, workable policies.  

Use it to: 

  • Streamline the process of developing your bereavement leave policy by offering customizable options for defining the type and duration of leave—and clarifying eligibility requirements to boot.  
  • Provide transparent communication tools that help foster a compassionate work environment during loss.  
  • Gain insight via 25+ customizable reports that can help you assess compliance with state and provincial laws and identify areas for improvement or adjustment in your policies. 

Want more information on how to best harness the superpowers offered by our Time-Off module? Explore our site or drop us a line! Ready to get started? Consider trying out our free 21-day trial, or book a demo today to see PurelyHR live in action. 


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