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How does your bereavement policy define ‘family’?

by on
in The HR Specialist Forum

An employee asked for bereavement leave when his cousin died. I turned it down and made him take vacation time instead. I felt bad about doing so, but I believe our policy, which vaguely refers to "family members," means immediate family—spouses, children, brothers, sisters and parents. The employee is pretty ticked off about this. What do your policies say? Should we amend our policy?—Denise in SC

See responses below
Editor's Note: Read more Q&A regarding bereavement leave at Is bereavement leave also FMLA leave? Not usually

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff July 6, 2013 at 6:31 am

My brother in law passed away and my company provided 5 fully paid days off. The policy includes all immediate family, in-laws, and step relatives (ie: step son), as well as legal guardians and same *** spouses.


Albert August 5, 2011 at 5:53 pm

this way, we will eliminate all the street dogs, since they will be part of a family when they die, so your employer can pay you for a day or two or even a week off, so you can enjoy time off paid by your company. Now be the employer and see if that makes any sense.


Roxanne May 6, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Hey I love my cat, and my fish, and my rabbit, and I love all cows.

I’m sorry, I am being a jerk. I agree that our pets are very important parts of our lives. And there are plenty of family member’s whose funerals I’d skip to go to my cat’s funeral. However, you can’t expect your employer to allow everyone to take time off for that. If it’s your own personal time or vacation , no problem.


Kim S March 1, 2011 at 1:35 pm

I believe that whan a family member dies, it should mean anyone or anything. Our pets are immediate family members. They are treated like our children and yet they are not included. My most extroadenary dog Riley died suddenly last saturday and I am grieving just as bad as if he was a human being. I believe the laws should be changed to include family pets as immediate family because our hearts break just the same way. I hope others will stand with me on this and get the laws changed that family members means just that, including our pets.


Claudia October 29, 2010 at 12:22 am

why is a non blood line more important than a blood cousin?


Claudia October 29, 2010 at 12:20 am

i disagree With IN law over riding a blood relative i faught tooth and nail for my cousin’s furneral and won! he is blood and in law is not. I have 3 in laws and would think of asking for pay leave if one of them died. there is no blood line


Gail July 21, 2010 at 3:17 pm

you should amend your policy to be clear as to what you consider to be family or extened family. Our policy states what you will be paid for each various type of family member. The death of a cousin would not be paid breavement leave, the employee could take personal time in order to be paid for the time off.


terri May 25, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Ok so Denise is an ***…..


John April 8, 2010 at 8:55 am

Hi Sonya. We don’t run HR for the people who pose these questions. We just post the questions. Thanks.


Sonya April 8, 2010 at 12:42 am

John, Theres a code of honor here. Does the employee ask for time off for funerals often….if not then why didn’t you just grant the day and not ask any question. You are an ***.


George March 7, 2010 at 12:25 pm

John, you are an ***.


anonymus April 21, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Our policy defines immediate family members. That way the employee is clear in the beginning.


Veronica March 18, 2009 at 10:28 am

Our company does not provide pay for bereavement. Employees will have to use vacation days. This has been our policy for the 6 years we have been in operation.


Patti March 17, 2009 at 5:02 pm

My current employer does not make reference to “domestic partner” but a former employer of mine was much more inclusive and did include “domestic partners” in all benefits – including health. The definition did, however, require the partner to be same ***. Their rationale was that opposite *** partners have the option to get married and enjoy eachother’s benefits where same *** partners do not.


Kathy March 17, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Without trying to sound harsh, the question is entitlement. Should employees be entitled to full pay for the time off work? Most employers are willing to grant the time off, but that doesn’t mean the employer has to pay for it. There has to be some place an employer can draw the line, and the examples listed above did just that when they specified who would be covered. Sympathy, yes, but paying for every relative, no.


Angela March 17, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Our Bereavement Leave policy allows up to 3 days of paid bereavement leave for “immediate family.”

Immediate family includes: spouse, parents/step-parents of either spouse, grandparents/grandchildren, children/step-children, siblings, son/daughter-in-law, brother/sister-in-law, step-brother/sister, same *** domestic partner, parents/step-parents of same *** domestic partner, children of same *** domestic partner and grandparents/grandchildren of same *** domesitc partners.

Our company also allows (1) day of paid leave to attend the funeral of a team member’s “Extended family.” Extended family includes: aunt, uncle, niece, nephew and first cousin.


Judith March 13, 2009 at 11:32 am

Question: Is it common for Breavement pay to come from you Personal accrued hours?


Anon March 13, 2009 at 9:51 am

Our policy is very specific: “A regular full-time or part-time employee shall be granted a leave with pay of up to four (4) days when that employee’s absence is required due to the death of the employee’s mother, father, husband, wife, son, daughter, brother or sister; grandparent; grandchild; in-law, adopted or step relative in the same relationship and, if the employee is not remarried at the time of the death, the employee’s former spouse or former father or mother-in-law. Prior approval must be requested and will be granted, absent any unusual operating requirements. With supervisory approval, an employee may use any available paid leave for additional time off as necessary.”


Nik March 11, 2009 at 10:33 pm

What about the “Domestic Partner”? We have not gotten married yet, but we are having a child in 8 weeks. Mom-mom, would have been my mother-in-law, just passed away… are we allowed for paid time off???


Sandy March 11, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Similarly, our policy defines immediate family as parent, child, spouse, sibling, parent-in-law, child-in-law, grandparent, grandchild or any person with whom the employee makes his/her home. Cousin does not fit the definition (unless living with the employee) so the employee would have needed to charge some other accrued leave, not sick time, for the absence. Or they could choose to take the time off without pay for the absence.


Bevie March 11, 2009 at 12:18 pm

We provide up to 5 days (for fulltime employees, part-time get 3 days) paid bereavement leave for immediate family members (spouse, children, step-children, grandchildren, parents and step-parents, brother-sister and step-siblings, grandparents and step-grandparents, in-laws, son-in-law, etc.). We provide 3 days paid (fulltime employees, part-time get 1 day)for extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews). One thing we added for clarification this year was that ex-family members are excluded. We had a situation arise and had to address this.


Patti March 11, 2009 at 11:28 am

We have 12 bargaining units within our organization and each of them has its own language defining family for bereavement purposes. A cousin, however, is not included in the definition of family in any of the contracts.

Some contracts do, however, contain language stating that one day of leave can be taken for a relative that is not defined as family.


Carol March 11, 2009 at 11:13 am

Our policy would not have allowed your employee to use bereavement leave, either. However, you should define “family members” in your policy.

Also, we do provide two different leaves, depending on the familial relationship–three days for immediate family, and two days for other family. Cousins are not included in either group.


Sami March 11, 2009 at 10:48 am

Our policy allows bereavement for the following:
Full-time Employees will be paid up to three days time to attend the funeral or memorial service of an immediate family member. For regular part-time Employees, bereavement leave will be granted only during normally scheduled work periods. The days must be taken between the family member’s death and no more than two days following the funeral or memorial service. Limited part-time, temporary and occasional Employees are not eligible for bereavement leave.
For purposes of the bereavement leave policy only, an immediate family member is defined as mother, father, spouse, child, brother, sister, grandparents, mother-in-law or father-in-law. In the case of death of another relative or friend, Employees may request unpaid time to attend the funeral or memorial service. Proof of attendance may be required.
In the event that an Employee needs additional days to attend a funeral or memorial service or tend to family members, such time off will be handled under the normal vacation policy or as an unpaid leave at the discretion of the Vice President for Doctoral Programs and Administration or the President.

In your situation, our employee would have been granted the time off, but would have had to use a vacation day in order to be paid for it.


Nicole March 11, 2009 at 10:29 am

Our policy allows bereavement for the following:
A full-time employee will be granted up to five days off work; three with pay and two without pay in the event of the death of a spouse, child, parent, or sibling. A full-time employee will be granted three days off; one with pay and two without pay in the event of the death of a father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law or daughter-in-law. A full-time employee will receive one day without pay for any other relatives.

In your situation, our employee would have been granted the time off, but would have had to use a vacation day in order to be paid for it.


Carrie March 11, 2009 at 10:28 am

In our handbook, we state: “Company defines “immediate family” as the employee’s spouse, parent, child, sibling; the employee’s spouse’s parent, child, or sibling; the employee’s child’s spouse; employee’s grandparents or grandchildren.” That way it’s clear from the beginning.


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