How do you handle a personal tragedy in a professional setting?  Death is an uncomfortable subject and most of us are unprepared to discuss it. Indeed, death is a subject most people barely speak about even in our personal lives. Pretty much it’s the domain of life insurance salespeople and H.R. But what if you’re not one of those people?

When I learned that my son had died a few months ago, I didn’t know what to do or say to my client. The timing couldn’t be worse, as I was preparing a website preview for a presentation by the marketing director. Talk about inconvenient deadlines.  I had to leave the next morning for Asheville. What should I tell my client about my son’s death? On the one hand, I couldn’t leave my client in the lurch with an impending deadline for no good reason. On the other hand, I to make them feel uncomfortable.

Do You Get Bereavement Leave?
If you work for the private sector, check your company’s policy or ask human resources. Most companies provide some leave for the loss of a child or spouse. However, don’t be surprised if when you return from the funeral, your boss or H.R. asks for proof of death: Either a death certificate or obituary or both.  It’s no surprise that government employees get better benefits than private sector employees. A federal employee is entitled to use a total of up to 104 hours (13 days) of sick leave each leave year for family care and bereavement, which include making arrangements required by the death of a family member and attending the funeral of a family member.  The FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) does not require the private sector to provide either paid or unpaid bereavement leave. Eleven of the states has its own version of this law, but only Oregon specifically requires private sector bereavement leave.

A 2016 survey by the Society of Human Resource Management reports that over 80 percent of companies have bereavement policies, with an average of 4 days off for the death of a spouse or a child. An average of 3 days leave is given for partners, parents, grandparents and grandchildren, foster children, and siblings. Two days paid leave is typical for a miscarriage, the death of a relative of your spouse or same-sex partner’s relative.  One day is standard paid leave for an extended family member’s death or the loss of a relative of your same sex partner.



Bereavement for a temporary employee, a contractor or freelancer.
If you work through a temp agency, you may want to check if they have paid time off benefits and how many hours you need to work to accrue them. If you’re an independent contractor or 1099 freelancer, it’s best to build bereavement pay into the rates you charge, and budget for time off…including time for grieving. Personally, I was able to jump into meeting three days after the funeral and fully focus on the actual work about a week after that. However, I was working from home most of the time. Working on site is difficult I’ve heard. A friend of mine, an executive at a major corporation, said she felt “raw” when returning to work after her son’s death and retired soon after. Now she has thrown herself into a entrepreneurial leadership position. Although I’m a writer, I find painting a source of comfort. So what did I actually say to my client? My executive friend advised me to tell the client my son had died. I opted to be more vague, emailing them early in the morning that I’d experienced a personal tragedy that would require 3 days off.



  1. U.S. Department of Labor. Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Family and Medical Leave Act.
  2. E
    mployment Law Handbook. The Hunt Group.
  3. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Fact Sheet: Leave for Funerals and Bereavement
  4. Society of Human Resources.
  5. Payscale. Temporary Employment Law.


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