Dealing with the death of a loved one is difficult no matter what, but it’s especially stressful to try to do so and make it into work every day. Ninety percent of businesses surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management give their employees paid bereavement days, and as a small business owner, it’s vital you support your employees during times of emotional hardship. Be clear on what you’re legally required to provide and what actions, though motivated by good intentions, may actually overstep your professional bounds.
Employee Rights, Employer Responsibilities
Employers are legally required by federal law to follow the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which grants employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to deal with extreme health circumstances, including childbirth and critical care of one’s self, spouse, child or parent. Specific days for bereavement are not mandated by the federal government, but the majority of businesses include a clear grief policy in their overall compensation package and grant employees a set number of paid days off to grieve among loved ones and handle funeral plans.
Have a few plainly stated sentences in your employee handbook regarding bereavement. This helps avoid confusion for everybody during a time of crisis. The National Federation of Independent Businesses suggests detailing your official policy so all employees know what to expect, but then allowing flexibility if individual circumstances require an employee to take an additional day or two of unpaid leave.
While an individualized approach is a great way to show you care, be sure to extend the same consideration to every employee experiencing grief. It’s important to strike a balance between following policy and allowing flexibility without showing favoritism.
As the business owner, you are the one your employees will contact to share their news, and you will most likely be their main source of support in the workplace. Use your discretion as far as involving other employees in showing support. Consider taking the following steps to show your grieving employee that you and your team care:
- Initiate an anonymous cash collection for an employee who is struggling to keep up with costly medical bills or funeral arrangements.
- Coordinate several days’ or weeks’ worth of home-cooked meals for an employee who is regularly visiting the hospital and doesn’t have the time or energy to cook.
- Have employees sign a group card to send to the hospital, funeral home or the employee’s home.
- Send sympathy flowers. You may either pitch in and send as a group or send on your own, but be sure to do the same for each grieving employee to avoid hurt feelings.
Finally, don’t show up at the employee’s home, the hospital or even the funeral or wake unless specifically invited to do so. Grieving is a private act; respect your employee’s right to privacy and time among close family members.
About the Author: Erik Wilson graduated Hofstra University with degrees in finance and management. Now he provides small business solutions in the greater New York area and blogs in his spare time.
Photo credit: Josh Sheldon