Why Even Small Businesses Need a Bereavement Policy

The average American spends 8.8 hours a day in work related activities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is around 176 hours each month working (and sometimes playing) alongside your coworkers. It’s easy to see how these people become an extended family.

As a business, how do you handle a death in a staff member’s life? There are two considerations: the personal side of the loss and the blowback on the company such as downtime. Thinking ahead about something that inevitably happens in every organization is a practical approach to managing office grief.

Bereavement Policy

Major corporations have set protocols in place for managing different aspects of bereavement. For example, Texas A&M has established policies for notifying an employee of a death in the family.

For small businesses, flexibility during this hard time is proper, but creating a bereavement policy allows you to establish the basics ahead of time. The goal of a bereavement policy is to maintain balance at a time that can be chaotic both for the staff member dealing with loss and the rest of the office. This way, when questions come up, management has the answers readily available. A bereavement policy provides comprehensive guidelines that cover:

  • Company policy regarding immediate family and non-family deaths
  • Guidance for managers or supervisors who must tell the affected employee of the death – designate a quiet room to make the notification, for instance.
  • Set number of bereavement days to allow for the funeral and other arraignments – this is not mandatory by law, but customary. Some companies allow the employee to use personal time or even provide bereavement pay. The Maryland State government bereavement policy (Courts.state.md.us) states that employees get two paid days off for funerals and may take up an additional four sick days if travelling.

Create standards for company condolences such as sending flowers to the family or the funeral home. The policy would direct the proper staff member to order the arrangement and about how much to spend. Flowers start at around 40 dollars, according to FTD.com.

Coworkers Time Off for the Funeral

In some cases, the staff may want to go to the funeral to show respect and support for their coworker. Small offices can decide to close even for just a few hours on that day to accommodate. Companies that cannot afford the downtime will need to set boundaries. Only members of the department, for example, will get time off for the service. Determine if the staff is able to take personal days or vacation time for the funeral, as well.

A Little Bit About Privacy

Grief affects people different ways. It is safe to assume the individual dealing with the loss will want privacy. The manager should ask the employees whether they want to tell the remaining staff of the loss themselves or let the administration handle it. It is important to convey a need to let people know about the death, especially in a small work environment where a staff member’s absence is noticeable. Lack of acknowledgement can lead to rumors in the workplace.

When telling the staff the news, discuss the employee’s wishes. Coworkers develop relationships that center around work. This means there can be little interaction outside of the business. In some cases, staff members may find coworkers’ contact intrusive. Unless it is clear this person welcomes contact outside of the office, limit condolences to cards and memorials such as donating to charity.