Bereavement Leave for Federal Employees

by Government Worker FI | Last Updated: September 9, 2020

Bereavement leave is something that you never think about until someone close to you passes away. If you’re a federal employee, chances are that your supervisor told you about bereavement leave options when you started. But maybe you lost the information among the stacks of paperwork you had to fill out on your first day. Last year, when I attended my uncle’s funeral (on annual leave), I learned that Mrs. Gov, a state employee, was able to attend the funeral using bereavement leave. After my uncle’s funeral, I searched for information on bereavement leave for federal employees but Google did not have a lot of information. Therefore, I decided to write this post to help federal employees in a similar situation.

Do federal employees get bereavement leave?

Federal employees do not get a a special type of leave for bereavement purposes. However, they can use annual leave or sick leave for bereavement depending on their relationship to the deceased. Federal employees cannot use administrative leave for bereavement purposes.

This rules regarding bereavement leave for federal employees are specified by OPM and are therefore consistent across all agencies. The remainder of this article explains when you can use sick leave for bereavement purposes.

When can I use bereavement leave as a federal employee?

As a federal employee, you can use sick leave for bereavement following the death of a “family member”. I put family member in quotations since OPM uses a very strict definition of who counts as a family member. For bereavement purposes, OPM defines in document 75 FR 33491.

To summarize the document, OPM defines family as parents, grandparents, siblings, children of the employees and spouse. They also define domestic partners and their parents as family. According to OPM you may also take leave for someone who had the “equivalent of a family relationship”. For example you could use bereavement leave to plan your aunt’s funeral if she raised you.

Technically, the OPM guidance states that bereavement leave is only for planning and attending the funeral. However, I can’t imagine being a productive employee after the loss of a loved one.

What other bereavement leave options do I have as a federal employee?

If you do not qualify for sick leave, you can substitute annual leave after your loss.

Furthermore, in certain cases you may be able to use leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The benefit of invoking FMLA leave is that it has a broader definition of family members as defined in CPM-2010-15.

If you’ve exhausted your sick and annual leave, you could decide to apply for advanced leave during the bereavement process. Advanced leave would need to be approved by your supervisor. You may also ask your supervisor for other flexibilities, such as the ability to work a different schedule for a period of time or apply for leave without pay (LWOP). Your supervisor will ultimate determine whether you can utilize these options. However, it is worth asking for these flexibilities if you need them.

How much leave can I take?

You can use up to 104 hours of sick leave (13 days) for bereavement leave in a calendar year. However, this 13 day limit also includes any sick leave taken to care for someone within your immediate family (see this OPM fact sheet). Obviously if you were caring for someone with a chronic illness and death, it may be easy to exceed this 13 day limit. In that case, you may wish to apply for FMLA leave. You may also wish to talk to your supervisor about any other flexibilities that might be available during this time.

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Where can I get more information?

I’ve tried to summarize the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)’s rules regarding bereavement leave in plain language. However, if you’re a federal employee who is having issues with the approval of bereavement leave, you’re obviously going to want to read through the full documentation.

Here are some helpful documents:

I pass along my condolences for your loss and hope this article helped you understand your benefits during this difficult time.