Facebook Raises The Bar For Supporting Grieving Employees

Sheryl Sandberg, citing her husband's death, spearheaded the policy change.

In one very heartfelt swoop, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has raised the bar on a very important employment benefit most people hope they’ll never use: paid bereavement leave ― the time off you need to recover from the loss of a loved one.

The tech giant will now provide 20 days of paid bereavement leave, double the amount previously given.

Sandberg knows from whence she speaks. She went back to work 10 days after her husband, Dave Goldberg, died in 2015.

“This is personal for me,” Sandberg said when making the announcement at the Makers conference, a women’s leadership event sponsored by AOL, the parent company of The Huffington Post. “I lost my husband very suddenly. Facebook provided leave and flexibility, and now we’re doing more.”

Facebook employees will also be able to take off three additional days if they need to take care of family member with a short-term illness, and six weeks if they need to provide longer-term care for ailing family members.

Bereavement leave has historically been an afterthought

For tech companies that typically attract young workers, the value of being paid while you grieve a spouse, partner, child or parent just hasn’t sparked many fires. Perhaps because of its sorrowful nature, bereavement leave doesn’t compete favorably against benefits like a generous vacation policy or paid sabbaticals.

The U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act doesn’t include a specific provision for bereavement leave, which means an employee has to get an employer’s approval before taking it ― even if it isn’t paid. Compare this to Canada, where all eligible employees get paid bereavement for three days.

Most U.S. states ― Oregon and Washington being the notable exceptions ― don’t require companies to pay employees for missing even a single hour of work when they take time off to bury a loved one, but some companies do it voluntarily. Three days is the typical allotment for time off.

Why three days isn’t enough

How do you mourn the loss of husband or wife or mother or father in just three days? The short answer is: You don’t. It all takes time, and we each grieve on our own timeline.

Death certificates don’t even get processed in three days. Funeral arrangements have to be made, people notified, wills located, insurance applications filed, beneficiaries changed, drivers licenses canceled, bills sorted. And yes, bereavement leave lets you take care of most of that. But healing takes time.

Hopefully, few employees will need to take this leave. Still, it behooves companies to offer it because it speaks to the employer’s corporate heart. A generous policy on bereavement leave says a company understands that devastation accompanies grief and recognizes that an employee needs to set aside work in order to manage personal feelings and issues during this most difficult time.

After all, who doesn’t want to work for a mensch?

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