Expanding bereavement leave policies to reflect today’s cultural shifts

Gina Gabriele

February 29, 2024

In the fast-paced and ever-changing landscape of today’s society, workplace policies are expected to adapt and reflect the diverse needs of employees. One area that requires careful consideration is bereavement leave policies. As cultural norms and expectations continue to evolve, it becomes increasingly important for companies to reevaluate and if necessary, expand their bereavement leave policies to provide adequate support for employees navigating grief.

Woman feeling sad when looking at picture of lost loved one in the frame. Depressed Asian women holding a photo frame of lost loved one and crying.

What is bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave grants employees time off work to grieve after a loved one passes away. The intention is to provide employees with the time needed to deal with the logistical and emotional aspects of the death. The time is granted to allow employees to grieve, attend services, or manage related financial or legal matters.

While bereavement is not a covered reason for use under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), there are states that have mandated employers to allow eligible employees to take bereavement leave, following the death of a family member or person of close relation, as defined by the law.  Also, employment law dictates that companies that do offer formalized leave policies, including bereavement, must uphold them for each employee.

Companies that do provide bereavement leave operate on a case-by-case basis. They may choose to provide paid, unpaid, or a mix of both. Depending on the policy, employees may need to use paid time off (PTO) or sick time for bereavement.

Close up of female hand on coffin saying goodbye at outdoor funeral ceremony, copy space

Trends in bereavement leave policies

The latest Leaves of Absence and Time Away from Work Survey by Marsh McLennan Agency’s (MMA) Absence, Disability, and Life (ADL) Practice displayed that bereavement has been a very topical leave of absence on the heels of COVID-19 and from the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion. With over 5,000 participating employers, the survey sheds light on how many organizations are updating how they approach bereavement and what is covered within official policies. To further narrow down the results, MMA has conducted a new survey initiative called, Moments That Matter Moments that Matter is a collection of surveys developed in collaboration with vendors, allowing employers to provide insights into trends associated with their company’s absence, disability, and leave policies. The recent study, developed in conjunction with Empathy, reported that 35% of the 30 large employer organizations that responded have already or intend to enhance their bereavement policies within the next 12 months2.

Today’s cultural shifts include a broader definition of family, an increased focus on mental health, and the acknowledgment of non-traditional forms of loss.

The first major trend is employers are starting to extend the duration of bereavement leave. Many companies offer a standard three to five days of bereavement leave, a timeframe that has remained largely unchanged for decades. A 2016 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey of more than 2,000 organizations found the average bereavement leave for a spouse or child was four days, while the loss of another relative averaged three days1.  The Moments That Matter survey, however, revealed that 39% of respondents indicated they provide 10 or more days off2. Today, we’re starting to see progressive employers in fields of professional services, high technology, and finance offering 2-4 weeks as more of a standard, says Andrew Brownstein, Regional Practice Leader of MMA’s Absence, Disability, and Life Practice.

This new approach helps to account for the unique nature of grief and the diverse ways individuals cope with loss. As a result, employees no longer need to find themselves grappling with the emotional toll of bereavement while attempting to navigate the demands of returning to work too soon.

Secondly is the expansion of the definition of a covered individual–how a company defines bereavement leave and the types of relationships that qualify. Traditional bereavement leave policies often limit support to the loss of immediate family members (spouse, parents, and children). However, the modern understanding of family is more expansive, encompassing chosen extended family members, close friends, and in some cases, even pets. Andrew says, “It’s not on the onus of the employer to define what somebody else means to one of their colleagues or employees.”

Woman at a funeral

How can MMA-ADL help?

Marsh McLennan Agency’s Absence, Disability, and Life Practice can help organizations manage absence and time off programs in a changing regulatory environment. At MMA-ADL, we are that partner, creating the cost-effective and meaningful results that today’s leading employers demand.

This article’s topic was originally covered in an episode of Gina’s Gems, “Bereavement and Loss: Why and how employers are supporting their employees in time of need,” which dives deeper into the latest trends in bereavement leave policies reflected in the recent Moments that Matter survey. In the episode, MMA-ADL Client Relationship Leader, Gina Gabriele is joined by Regional Practice Leader, Andrew Brownstein, and the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Empathy, Ron Gura. Contact us to learn more about our Moments that Matter report.


  1. SHRM, “How to Support Employees through Grief and Loss,” accessed December 21, 2023, https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/0917/pages/how-to-support-employees-through-grief-and-loss.aspx
  2. “Moments that Matter,” Marsh McLennan Agency, Empathy, Accessed January 30, 2024, https://mma-adl.com/how-top-employers-are-approaching-bereavement-care-a-report/