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Death: Significant Life Event

Updated: Aug 2

Employers are not doing enough to acknowledge the significance the death of a loved one has on their employees. Additionally, except in Oregon and Illinois, there are currently no state laws that ensure job protection for time off during the darkest time of an employee's life when they lose a loved one. And even in Oregon and Illinois, it is only 10 days for employers over 50 employees only. Death impacts every sense and every aspect of our life and trying to keep working our jobs in the process can be impossible. Let's face it, talking about and acknowledging death and grief is still very taboo in this country.

Under the current Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 12 weeks of unpaid, protected time off from work currently exists for what is defined as a 'significant life event' which includes: birth, adoption or foster care, serious medical conditions and to care for an ill family member.

If birth is considered a significant life event, why is death not? David Kessler, grief guru, says it best: "Death is an inescapable life event". If we are not the one who died, we are dealing with the grief of our person who has passed away and death and the often debilitating grief that follows will effect everyone at some point in this life.

In Empathy.com's (www.empathy.com) recently published report "The Cost of Dying", it was reported that winding down a loved ones affairs alone after they pass takes on average 420 hours and approximately 13 months to finish the whole process. This breaks down to an average of 5 phone calls per week and approximately 46% of people spending more than 26 hours per month on the phone tying up affairs.


In the same report, 52% of people reported that their job performance was harmed and 31% said they found it hard to concentrate at work, 25% were constantly distracted while a whopping 70% of those under 30 reported concern for their job, lowered performance or both.

From a mental health standpoint in the workplace, 17.5% of respondents had panic attacks as a result of their loss, 57% of respondents suffered from clinical mental or physical health symptoms and an astonishing 80% said they did not know what to do, lacked guidance, or were afraid of making mistakes.

Grief and loss is a long road. The grieving never ends. Employers can show a lot of support in allowing their grief-stricken employees the appropriate amount of time off to grieve in the healthiest way possible.


Time Off for Grief

Bereavement Leave. Currently some employers provide Bereavement leave, which is typically 3-5 days of paid leave which is available to an employee at the time of death or funeral of a member of the employee's immediate family.

  • While helpful for the burial of a loved one, the message that is sent to employees is to hurry up and get back to work once the services are over.

  • There is currently no federal law that mandates employers to provide bereavement leave and no state laws, except Oregon and Illinois, that have leave laws in place for the death of a loved one. It is considered an employee benefit.

The nonprofit Evermore (www.evermore.org) sole mission is working to make Bereavement laws a federal law by including 5 days of paid leave for every employer in the country to have to implement. This is a great start.

Extended Bereavement Leave. In 2015, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook's husband died suddenly during a vacation in Mexico. After living the devastation personally of spousal loss, Facebook came back with an expanded bereavement leave program of 20 days paid leave to grieve an immediate family member.

  • Advocates had hoped with Facebook's change in policy, other employers would follow suit. To date, the only other known private-sector employers doing the same 20 day paid Bereavement leave are Visa Corporation and Adobe.​

  • While larger employers might be able to afford 20 days of paid time off, most employers cannot bear this financial burden.

WE NEED MORE WORKPLACE LEAVE PROTECTIONS WHEN IT COMES TO DEATH OF A LOVED ONE

  • It is my passion and my hope that I can work with the Department of Labor (DOL) to modify the current FMLA leave protections at a federal level and allow for individuals to have up to 12 weeks of protected unpaid time off under FMLA for the death of a spouse, child or parent in the first year of a significant loss.

  • Additionally, for employers under 50 employees where FMLA may not apply, states need Grieve Leave laws that will allow employees a more appropriate amount of time to grieve the loss of their loved one that extends beyond the traditional bereavement benefits that only some employers have in place.


  • Employers can implement a Grieve Leave policy right now. You do not need a federal or state law to create protections for your employees who suffer a significant loss. Reach out, I can assist your organization in creating a policy.



Birth and Death are BOTH significant life events. The birth (or adoption) of a child in your life is ever lasting. Employees have those 12 weeks to adjust to the birth of a child in the household without fear of losing their job in the process. The death of a spouse, parent or child in your life is also ever lasting. Employees need those 12 weeks under FMLA or Grieve Leave in the first year of a loss to adjust to a household and world no longer without their person in it here on earth without fear of losing their job in the process.


Nora McInerny put it best in her TED talk from 2018, "Everyone you love has a 100% chance of dying." Employers need to show empathy during this life altering time in their employee's life and employees need these workplace protections in order to grieve properly without the fear of losing their job during this life altering time.


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