Magazine article HRMagazine

Time to Grieve

Magazine article HRMagazine

Time to Grieve

Article excerpt

How much time off should be given to an employee who has lost a spouse or child?

Questions surrounding the best way to handle a return to work after a death became part of the national conversation when Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband, Dave Goldberg, a Silicon Valley executive, earlier this year. While Sandberg chose to return to work within a couple of weeks, others may find they need more or less time.

Indeed, there's no one right answer, since every person grieves differently. The best approach is to lead with compassion; an empathetic response during an employee's time of need can generate tremendous loyalty and appreciation.

Eighty-six percent of employers offer paid bereavement leave following the death of a spouse or child, according to the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) 2015 Employee Benefits research report. That leave usually ranges from three to five days, according to a 2009 SHRM survey, and it is almost always in addition to other paid time off. The question most HR professionals will face, however, is whether an employee's specific allotment is enough, and, if not, what to do about it.

There are no federal laws that give private employees the "right" to bereavement leave, although federal and some state employees are entitled to such time. Oregon is the only state that mandates bereavement leave for private employees, allowing up to two weeks of unpaid leave under the Oregon Family Leave Act.

Leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act is available during a family member's illness, but not after death. However, if the surviving employee develops depression or another medical condition, any remaining leave could be used for the employee to care of him or herself.

When a worker asks for more time off than he or she is eligible for, you must balance your compassion for the employee with the needs of the company.

In HR, we are told to "be consistent" with our policies. But consistency doesn't preclude flexibility. As long as your approach is the same, you can build in some variability in the amount of time off you allow. Try the following:

* Talk with the employee to determine how much time off is needed and compare this with the needs of the department. Citing department- or positionspecific needs can support an employer's determination in a nondiscriminatory fashion.

* If extended leave is needed and can be granted, review any personal leave policies to determine eligibility. These policies often have set limits, but they may be at the employer's discretion.

* Consider a phased approach for the employee's return to work. Part-time hours or flextime might meet the needs of both worker and department.

Is there a problem with listing "digital native" as a job requirement?

There could be, as it might suggest age discrimination in hiring.

The term was coined in 2001 by author Marc Prensky, who used it to refer to those born into the relatively new culture of the digital age-those who may never have seen an encyclopedia and can send a text in the time it takes me to select the correct contact name. Conversely, "digital immigrants" are people born before this era who have had to assimilate to this new technology.

While no actual age is associated with the term "digital native," listing it as a job requirement can imply that you desire someone younger than 40 and, therefore, could violate the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Of course, there could be a 45-year-old applicant who was an early adopter; perhaps he or she tinkered with a Commodore 64 computer in childhood, but whether this qualifies him or her as a digital native is anyone's guess. …

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