Facebook Brings Bereavement Policies into Focus with Policy Change
While many businesses allow employees to take a day or two off – and get paid – after the loss of a family member, there is no mandate that requires companies to give employees paid bereavement leave.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t important, and Facebook has drawn attention to that fact with its announcement that it will now give employees 20 paid days to mourn the loss of an immediate family member and 10 paid days off to grieve the loss of an extended family member. (Employees can also take up to six weeks of paid leave to care for sick relative and take advantage of other benefits.)
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and the author of “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” knows all too well how hard it can be to cope with the loss of a loved one: Her husband, Dave Goldberg, died unexpectedly May 2, 2015, at the age of 47. She’s now co-writing a book with Wharton professor Adam Grant titled “Option B,” which will focus on coping with loss.
In a Facebook post announcing the company’s new bereavement leave policy, Sandberg shares her own story, noting that amid the nightmare of her husband’s death, when her kids needed her most, “I was grateful every day to work for a company that provides bereavement leave and flexibility. I needed both to start my recovery.”
She continues, “I know how rare that is, and I believe strongly that it shouldn’t be. People should be able both to work and be there for their families. No one should face this trade-off. We need public policies that make it easier for people to care for their children and aging parents and for families to mourn and heal after loss. Making it easier for more Americans to be the workers and family members they want to be will make our economy and country stronger. Companies that stand by the people who work for them do the right thing and the smart thing – it helps them serve their mission, live their values, and improve their bottom line by increasing the loyalty and performance of their workforce.”
Sandberg notes that while 60 percent of private sector workers in the United States get paid time off after the death of a loved one, it’s “usually just a few days.” She concludes her message with, “I hope more companies will join us and others making similar moves, because America’s families deserve support.”
Darrell W. Hill, founder and CEO of Eternity Gardens, which is building the largest, most comprehensive online listing of cremation, memorial and scattering gardens for cremated remains, notes the announcement by Facebook underscores the “difficult healing process that takes place when a family member passes away.”
The announcement also opens up “a door of opportunity” for the profession, Hill says. “Our professionals literally have centuries of expertise and experience guiding families through the healing process after a death. How can we seize this moment to offer our wise counsel to corporations as they allow their employees the time to heal from a loss? We seize this moment by 1) sharing our expertise; 2) enlightening corporate employees, and 3) equipping them with solutions.”
Hill says Facebook’s announcement should encourage funeral homes to examine their own bereavement policies. “What kind of support is offered to our colleagues when they experience the loss of a loved one?” he asks. “Because they are in the profession, are they burdened with the planning of the event and not adequately allowed to simply grieve? Or are they treated as valued clients going through a loss as well as a valued employee who must return to a point of emotional health before returning to work? As the profession continues to age, the reality and frequency of loss will become incredibly relevant in the years to come.”
Robert Fells, executive director and general counsel of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, says Facebook’s new policy begs the question of how much is a sufficient amount of bereavement leave. “I think first we have to ask what is the purpose of bereavement leave?” he asks. “If the purpose is to provide time off for a person to work through their grief, then even 20 days is insufficient. Depending on a person’s relationship to the deceased, that grief can be deep and long lasting. I think it’s fair to say that bereavement leave is not meant for that purpose because we would be looking at a year or more to work through the grief cycle.”
Bereavement leave seems to really be geared to cope with the immediate reaction of a death and facilitating time to join with family members for the funeral service “and not expecting an employee to continue to work during this emotional time or suffer a financial loss by taking unpaid leave,” Fells says.
Fells, who notes that the ICCFA provides its own employees with bereavement leave, thinks it’s important for every employer to do so. “First, it is unproductive to expect an employee to continue working under such circumstances or be forced to take unpaid leave,” he says. “Since everybody will need bereavement leave at some point in their employment; it is good policy to provide this as a benefit. It’s just good business to take care of our employees for morale and productivity.”
An interesting question that funeral professionals might want to consider, Fells notes, is whether there may be a correlation between the length of the leave and the extent of the funeral services. “In other words, would 10 or 20 days leave encourage longer viewing days or more people attending a burial ceremony?”
While Fells doesn’t believe there is any correlation, he still promotes providing bereavement leave on humanitarian grounds.
Source: Funeral Service Insider, March 6, 2017