Earlier this year, Facebook announced a big change in its employee bereavement leave policy. As reported by Fortune, COO Sheryl Sandberg announced that Facebook employees are now entitled to 20 days of paid leave if an immediate family member dies and 10 days if an extended family member passes away. This policy change is the latest in what appears to be a growing trend among U.S. businesses: offering employees greater amounts of paid time off for a variety of personal reasons.

But can smaller businesses afford a similarly generous employee bereavement leave policy?

The Current Landscape

According to FitSmallBusiness, employees typically receive three to five days of bereavement leave, during which they can handle funeral arrangements, attend services, see to the disposition of the deceased's will and property, and so on. Generally, these bereavement leave policies only cover employees who experience the death of an immediate family member.

A more generous policy might extend this leave by one or two days, although, depending on the size of your staff and the role of the affected employee, this might put a strain on daily business operations. You may also consider expanding your policy so it covers leave for extended family members, as well as immediate.

While many small business owners may not be able to match the resources of large corporations, they can strive to respect the needs of employees in every way possible. For example, it's crucially important to demonstrate empathy when an employee loses a loved one. Implementing a leave policy that attempts to balance an employee's need for time to grieve with the needs of the business can be a delicate task, but displaying compassion in a time of extreme emotional distress lets employees know that they're respected.

How You Can Help

Even if you decide not to offer more days of bereavement leave, there are still meaningful ways you can help your employees after the death of a loved one. As always, ensure any considerations are applied consistently to your workforce.

  • Where the need for time off goes beyond what's allowed in your established policy, look for alternative options. Consider letting employees supplement their leave with unpaid time off, personal days or vacation time.
  • Have an HR representative or someone else in the company available to share relevant information and resources in this time of need.
  • Consider giving a grief-stricken employee the opportunity to work from home more often or to take more frequent work breaks so they can cope with unexpected episodes of grief.

How Helping Can Help Your Business

While, as a human being, it's easy to err on the side of compassion, as a small business owner, you need to balance your desire to help your employees in a time of need with the needs of your growing business. While a generous bereavement leave policy could place an additional strain on your workforce as other employees will need to cover an extended absence, it can also benefit your business in the long run. As Forbes notes, just 60 percent of American employees in the private sector receive paid time off when a family member dies. Therefore, by offering bereavement leave, you have an opportunity to add an important and appealing benefit to your candidate recruitment (and employee retention) package.

Additionally, employees who feel that they've been treated with compassion during an especially trying time may be more likely to share their experience with people in their personal and professional networks. This can contribute to your company's reputation as an "employer of choice" that genuinely cares about its workforce.

Facebook's new bereavement policy should be commended for recognizing the ordeal a grieving employee goes through upon the loss of a loved one. It may not be possible for your small business to match this large corporation's approach to bereavement leave. However, offering some flexibility and demonstrating consistent respect and concern can help your employees feel less isolated and distressed in their grief — and promote a stronger sense of loyalty when the grieving process comes to an end.

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Employers should consult the laws in their jurisdiction. Some states may have mandates regarding bereavement leave.

Tags: Human Resources Leave of Absence Benefits Employee Handbooks Paid Time Off