Bereavement Leave FAILS When It Comes to Flexibility

When you’re managing employees and they have a death in the family of someone who has been sick for a while and they have made you aware of the situation, what do you do? Worse yet, what do you do when an employee calls you on their way out of town to tell you that their brother was killed the night before by a hit and run driver?  They continue to tell you the reason they are heading out of town immediately, before any funeral plans are announced, is that their brother’s wife is in critical condition in the hospital.  The oldest daughter of her sister-in-law who is dealing with the loss herself and worrying about the condition of her mother needs help. The employee has no idea when the funeral will be, let alone where her brother’s body is at the moment, and what will come of the criminal case surrounding the hit and run.  What do you do when you take a look at the bereavement leave policy and it says “up to 3 or 5 days,” depending on location of the funeral and how close the deceased is to the employee?

 

Well this very thing happened to me, but luckily I didn’t really have a boss to report to other than cancelling one of the classes I was scheduled to teach and holding it online instead of in person. Thankfully, I had an independent contractor I could lean on for my outstanding consulting projects.  I’m not saying things didn’t get lost in the shuffle because I did miss responding to emails and phone calls for a couple months due to trying to stay caught up with what is current when I finally got back.  Had I been working a job that restricted the amount of time I took off, I am sure in many cases my job would be in jeopardy or gone upon my return.  Since my brother was dead, I would not have had Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to fall back on either.  My sister-in-law doesn’t fall on the covered list of “immediate family members,” plus she had her kids to take care of her.  So the boss would have had their hands tied on what flexibility they could lend to this horrible situation. Even the military exigency leave would not have been applicable, even though my brother did retire with over 20 years of service to the US Air Force.

 

The long and short of it is that I was actually out of commission, so to speak, for about three weeks.  Out of commission for me is that I physically was not able to be present for a typical bricks and mortar 9-5 job, but I did work while I was away through mobile devices, and was able to keep up with the critical parts of my jobs as instructor and consultant.  The problem is most employees don’t have that flexibility nor do their managers understand the intricate details of what the employee is going through.  That is why I am writing this post because I too would never have understood an employee having to be away for that long without actually having gone through it myself.  Perhaps if managers read this they will have an open mind and open heart to what the employee is going through.  A paradigm shift, if you will.

 

You see the following had to be done, and was done, with the help of my niece and nephew primarily:

  • Visit sister-in-law to see how she was doing and what I could do to help (repeat daily with updates)
  • Find the body and get permission to have it sent post autopsy to the funeral home
  • Visit the crash site to see how this happened in person and collect personal belongings thrown all around the site due to the vehicle flipping
  • Since the driver had not come forward, have a sign made and erected along the edge of the highway near the crash site asking for information
  • Participate in TV interviews and share them on social media to help get the word out about the vehicle the authorities were looking for based on eye witness accounts of the incident
  • Visit his workplace to get details going regarding final check, insurance, retirement and pick up his personal belongings
  • Research how to obtain a copy of the autopsy needed for the insurance and get his wife’s signature and fax
  • Meet with the funeral home to set up the local funeral, service back home, and burial back home (with many calls and email follow-ups)
  • Pick up his uniform and take to the dry cleaner then to the funeral home
  • Stop by the highway patrol office to get copies of accident reports needed for the insurance so the funeral could be paid for
  • Meet with the district attorney to get permission to obtain his personal belongings from the vehicle at the impound lot
  • Meet with the state trooper at the impound lot to see the vehicle mangled and retrieve all personal belongings
  • Research possibilities for transportation of the body from one state to another to include a military escort from the service to the grave site
  • Keep out-of-town family members up-to-date on progress so they could eventually make flight plans
  • Coordinate pictures and videos to be taken in all three locations for his widow since she was still in the hospital and could not attend
  • Go through his personal belongings at his home and garage to bring meaningful memorabilia to the funeral home for the services
  • Collect pictures from family members representing all 46 of his years to develop a slideshow for the services
  • Pull music that was meaningful to him for the background of the slide show and edit and reedit (multiple times) to work correctly
  • Attend the funeral, transport the body, attend the local service and bury him
  • Return to go through his things with his widow upon her release from the hospital so his garage could be cleaned out and mail sentimental things to his mother, brother and nephew

Now that is certainly all I can remember now four months out so I am sure I have missed some things.  As a manager you must not just see this list as a tactical “to do” list, you have to consider the psychological impact each of these tasks and toll it has on the employee.  For weeks I was go, go, go but a couple days after the burial, it finally hit me.  He was dead! He was never coming back! His killer is still at large! I couldn’t even get out of bed for two days straight.  I had to see a doctor to help me emotionally because it was affecting me physically.  Now how much time do you think all this should take? Three to five days is a joke and is not a one size fit all policy that will work for every employee situation.

Thank you for reading and I hope I make a difference in how you see a similar situation in your employee’s future.

 

Photo Credit

About the Author: Donna Rogers, SPHR aka @HRWarrior. Donna is a full time Instructor at University of Illinois at Springfield, owner of Rogers HR Consulting and the immediate past Director of the Illinois State Council of SHRM. She has over 20 years in the HR field and currently teaches Human Resources Management, Organizational Behavior, Organizational Development, and Strategic HR Management. She practices what she teaches for almost 100 clients in the central Illinois area.

About the Author

Donna Rogers, SPHR

Donna Rogers, SPHR aka @DonnaRogersHR. Donna is a full time Instructor at University of Illinois at Springfield, owner of Rogers HR Consulting and the immediate past Director of the Illinois State Council of SHRM. She has over 20 years in the HR field and currently teaches Human Resources Management, Organizational Behavior, Organizational Development, and Strategic HR Management. She practices what she teaches for almost 100 clients in the central Illinois area.

3 Comments

Kacy W

Thank you for sharing such a raw and emotional personal glimpse. I sincerely offer my condolences for the loss of your brother. As the employer, I have always wanted to do more in the wake of tragedies for our employees. This is a glaring reminder to keep people’s emotional well-being at the forefront of decision making and let that trump policy. While clearly not worth the price of the lesson, you are undoubtedly a better “HR person” having lived through this horrific tragedy. This post will weigh heavy on my heart. Thank you for sharing. May you find peace moving forward.

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Donna Rogers

Thanks so much for your comment Kelly O. You have a perfect example of the type of situations our employees have that we may not be aware of.

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Kelly O

This really hit home for me. I’ve lost several immediate family members over the years, and can honestly say that after three days (the most bereavement I’ve ever officially been eligible for) I was in no way prepared to “just get back to work.” I did, after my Dad died, but it was sincerely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

When my little brother died a couple of years ago, I was gone a week, and probably shouldn’t have been back when I was, but I *had* do get back.

Part of it, I think, is a cultural obsession with how we look at death, and the way we deal with the grieving process. It just seems a shame we allow so little time to deal with the grief itself, much less all the “stuff” that has to be done in the aftermath. I will be forever grateful for the person who cleaned out my brother’s desk and brought my Mom a very carefully packed box of his things. And I will forever have a hard spot in my heart for the landlord who “couldn’t” give us a few days extra to get his things out of his apartment because it was the end of the month, and since rent wouldn’t be paid they would give no extra time for his roommate to figure something out.

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