Recently we had a great family loss in our family, and it got me thinking about how employers and employees handle such a sensitive topic, so I wanted to provide some of my personal insight. For an employee that’s going through the loss, one of the biggest things after learning of the loss is trying to figure out what steps they need to take next (burial arrangements, spouse or children consoling, asset distribution, legal matters, etc.). The last thing they should be worrying about is their job. For those few hours, few days or maybe even few weeks, having the burden of returning to work quickly can be a daunting and resentful experience on top of everything else that is going on in that employee’s life.
As an employer one of the things, you can do in relation to this topic is to have discussions around the type of culture you want to create with your team in your business around such a sensitive subject. For instance, if you are an organization that really cares about your employees there might be a set of rules you have as to how many days are available and whether those would be paid or unpaid. You might also be open to allowing your managers the autonomy to potentially make accommodations for a particular employee that might be struggling a bit more than someone else because the person that passed might be a closer relative (child, parent, spouse). Additionally, you might want to offer things like an employer assistance program, free counseling, meals to their home, send them flowers, sign a card for that employee upon their return, just to name a few. What’s important is that you understand the requirement to be sensitive to the needs of that employee.
Employees are not all the same so you might have employees that really will see these things as ‘my employer cares for me’ and you might have employees that see these things like ‘this is my private life my employer shouldn’t be involved’. Because of this it’s essential to have these types of policies or processes out in the open and clearly communicated from the beginning of engaging a potential candidate. You might want to reference things like ‘we have a family culture’ or ‘we really care about our employees and their families’ and something like ‘in times of need we are always here to help’. Establishing this type of message early on will allow the employee to understand that the employer’s intent is not to overstep or trespass the boundaries of employee/employer relationship, but to serve as an additional support system truly and actually for that employee.
The employee knowing how the employer will behave in these situations should also feel comfortable in requesting the time they need to handle any legal issues, travel requirements or bereavement time. Employees shouldn’t feel like they have to come to work too quickly after their family member has passed, however from a business standpoint it should also be clear that the employee cannot take advantage of that time. Putting some boundaries around a specific number of days for bereavement depending on the classification of that employee’s relationship to the deceased or allowing the employee to discuss how much time they might need to handle certain situations might overcome the concern of employees taking advantage of the process. In the end you want to create a bereavement policy that is consistent, fair, supportive and aligned with the company culture and expectations.