How to Ask for Time Off for a Funeral?
In most cases, employers are understanding when you lose a loved one and need time off for bereavement and to attend the funeral. In fact, many companies have explicit bereavement policies in their employee handbooks, which allow you to look up the exact benefits you receive upon the loss of a loved one (usually dependent on your relationship to them, i.e., spouse, child, parent, grandparent, etc.). In these instances, you typically have to write a funeral leave letter or notify your boss, and the time off is granted from there.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case everywhere. Some employers have no funeral leave policies. Others will give you the days off but not pay you for them. Others only recognize certain relationships (parent/child/spouse) and will not grant bereavement leave for relatives such as aunts, uncles, and cousins, no matter how close you were.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees eligible employees time off to care for a family member with a serious medical illness, but it does not include coverage for the funeral and/or death arrangements. This means that legally, it is often up to your employer to determine whether or not you are allowed time off for a funeral.
How to Approach Compassionate Leave
The best thing to do in any situation involving a death is to be as upfront as possible as early as possible—and to get it in writing. If a loved one has a serious or terminal illness, make sure your human resources department is aware of the situation and that you may be called away on short notice. Ask if there’s a way for you to trade in vacation/sick days or to work late a few nights a week in anticipation of needing that time off in the near future. (Again, anything you can get to this effect in writing is important.)
Since death does so often come suddenly, you may have only a few days or hours warning, which can make things difficult. In these instances, follow any bereavement protocol in your employee handbook. Sometimes, a death certificate or other verification is required. Other times, all you will need is a funeral leave letter similar to the following.
Dear (HR Department, Supervisor, Etc.),
I am writing to request a (three) day leave to attend the funeral of my (paternal aunt). The service will take place in (Washington State) on (Tuesday, November 4). I will be (driving) over and staying for two nights, and will return on (November 6).
It is important to include details specific to the date and location of the funeral, as this information helps the HR department determine how much time off is warranted. More personal details like how the deceased died or why you need the time off are not relevant. You can share them with your employer, obviously, but stick to the basic facts in writing.