I came across a blog post yesterday by Michael Maslanka, who, while during some pro bono work, tried to assist an employer in crafting a fair and legally sound corporate bereavement policy.

After talking through the "usual suspects" of loved ones that would qualify an employee for bereavement leave — undoubtedly, a spouse, child, parent, grandparent and sibling — Maslanka says he raised the issue of nontraditional relationships like same-sex partners, step-parents and perhaps even friends or opposite-sex cohabitating partners.

I heartily applaud Maslanka for broaching this tough subject with his client. Bereavement is one of those often overlooked, but never forgotten benefit policies.

An employee will never, ever forget how he was treated — or perceives he was treated — by his employer as he copes with the loss of someone dear to him, whether the loved one was a blood/legal relative or not.

By meting out what grief is professionally acceptable or "worthy" of bereavement leave, employers run the risk of appearing callous and insensitive right at a time when workers need them to be the exact opposite.

However, I think the solution Maslanka and his client reached also is a tricky one. While still listing the usual suspects in the policy, he writes that his client acknowledged "there are many nontraditional relationships that can be no less important to our employees. If you believe that bereavement leave is appropriate in your circumstances, please let [designated person] know, and we will work with you."

So, doesn’t the employer then put managers and/or HR/benefits staff in the position of having to judge independently — rather than having a policy to do it for them — what grief is professionally acceptable or “worthy” of bereavement leave? Spouse, yes; ex-boyfriend, no? Parent, yes; pet, no?

While I don’t agree with methodically listing which loved ones are allowable, leaving it open-ended seems risky as well. But perhaps not, since only the worst employee would have the gall to take advantage of bereavement leave, right?

What do you think? Is your company’s bereavement leave policy written in stone? Or, is it more flexible, like Maslanka’s client? Which way do you think is best? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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