The debate over employee sanctioned bereavement leave is a difficult one. On the one hand you have people who insist that bereavement leave should be a standard part of the employee benefit package, like maternity leave. On the other, you have those who say that regulating bereavement leave is much trickier and will be more difficult for businesses to implement and should be left well enough alone. They are both kind of right and kind of wrong.

Bereavement and Maternity Leave

Expectant mothers and fathers can count on being given at least a few weeks (though, in most cases it is at least a few months) of maternal or paternal leave after the baby is born. The government requires that maternity and paternity leave be offered to all new parents.

Someone who has just lost a family member, though, cannot count on that same benefit. It is true that many employers offer their workforce at least a couple of weeks of bereavement leave to take after the loss of a “dependent.”

Others insist that regulating something like this would be too hard—not just from a paperwork standpoint but from an interpersonal standpoint. Why?

The Flexibility of Grief

Maternity/paternity leave is pretty standard. Employers understand what is going on at home—sleepless nights, a crying baby, adjusting to life as parents. While every baby is a precious snowflake, sure, the realities of a newborn are almost cookie-cutter-like in their similarities. Bereavement and grief are not like that.

For some people, grief starts when a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness. For others the grief doesn’t start until long after the loved one has passed. Some relish the chance to dive back into a routine. Others find themselves unable to independently function for long periods of time. The grieving process is unique for each person and there is no way to predict what a person will feel or how he or she will behave after the loss of a loved one.

Furthermore, how would “loved one” be defined? Maternity and Paternity leave can be defined by the addition of a new human to the family. Grief, though—its strength is not determined by how closely related the deceased is to the employee. Limiting bereavement leave to parents, spouses and dependents would leave many people without the time they need to work through their pain.

On the other hand, there are some people who are more affected by the loss of a loved pet than a loved person. Who is lost does not determine the strength or validity of a person’s grief. Should employers be required to offer employees bereavement leave after the loss of a pet as well as the loss of a loved one?

One Rallying Point

In any case, the one point on which everyone agrees is that many companies and businesses are handling grief and bereavement clumsily at best.

One employee reported being forced to go back to work or risk unemployment—before his father’s Brighton funeral was even over.

Another woman reported being harassed by her HR department for poor work performance a few months after losing her best friend because “really, you should be over it by now.”

Or the man who buried his wife and started receiving phone calls from his employer a mere few days later pressuring him to get back to work. The stress of being required to go back to work too early—even after presenting his employer with evaluations from a psychiatrist recommending more time off—caused the man to suffer a full breakdown.

Whether or not you agree that bereavement leave should be as guaranteed as maternity or paternity leave, you can probably agree that these employers should have found a way to work with these employees.

The Structure of the Business

The structure of the business is another important factor to consider. While bereavement regulation might be helpful in a large and impersonal corporate environment—to keep someone from another region from dictating the actions of an employee never met—it could cripple a small business. To that end, many small businesses are already more than capable and willing to work with an employee who is devastated by grief. Small businesses are often run like families and the employers will work with employees who need time or space or even a little bit of coddling—scaling back work hours or duties, whatever the employee needs. Should those businesses that are already handling things well be forced to change their methods because a government regulatory committee thinks it knows better?

The Solution

If there is to be a regulated answer, the solution seems to lie somewhere in the murky middle, a set amount of time that can be claimed in as big chunks or little bits as needed and spread out over the course of the year, like sick leave. As of yet, however, many companies are reticent to adopt this policy, preferring the legal protection of something cut and dried.

Whatever your current situation, the best thing that you can do is be open as possible with everyone. For example, tell your Brighton Funeral Director if your employer is strict about your hours. Perhaps the service can be held on a day off. Be honest and say “no” if your employer asks if you are ready to be back at work and you aren’t yet ready to get back into the swing of things. You’ll be surprised by how ready people are to work with you and help you if you are honest about your grief and how it is affecting you.