Who is Considered Immediate Family For Bereavement Leave?

Two people holding hands at a funeral
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The death of a family member is one of life’s most difficult experiences. Dealing with the emotional trauma of a major loss in the family is hard enough without the added stress of making final arrangements, estate execution and keeping up with the requirements of your daily life. If you need to take time off work to attend services or deal with the aftermath of the loss, will you have to use vacation or sick time, or does your company offer bereavement leave?

Employer Policies and Laws on Bereavement Leave

Many companies offer bereavement time as an employee benefit. Policies vary by company, but typically, you are eligible to take an allotted number of paid days (often two to three) for the death of an immediate family member. In many instances, this time off with pay is calculated separately from vacation time, sick time or personal time.

There are no federal laws requiring that bereavement leave be offered to employees. In fact, of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, only Oregon has a state law requiring that employers provide bereavement leave to their staff. In addition, there are no federal laws in the United States dictating which family members are considered “immediate” for the purposes of bereavement leave. According to the Department of Labor, The Fair Labor Standards Act states that this is a matter between employers and employees or their union representatives.

Bereavement Time and Federal Employees

Many United States federal employees, however, are provided funeral leave as a benefit of their employment. Under the policies for federal employees, immediate family is considered a spouse, spouse’s parent, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, parent, spouse of a parent, brother, sister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren, spouse of a grandparent, spouse of a grandchild, domestic partner, parent of a domestic partner, or any individual related by blood with a relationship equivalent to any of the above relationships. Under this policy, domestic partners of any of the above individuals are treated as spouses. Additionally, adoptive members of a family are considered in the same manner as biological relations. Half- or step-parents, siblings, children or grandparents also are treated as biological relatives for these purposes.

Who is Considered an Immediate Family Member for Bereavement Leave?

For those who are not federal employees, the designation of immediate family is dictated by an employer’s individual policy. In many cases, immediate family is considered to be the same as under the federal employee policy, but this is not guaranteed. Which family members qualify for bereavement leave is not federally regulated, so it is up to the discretion of your employer.

If you are unsure of your company’s bereavement policy, refer to your employee handbook, or ask your human resources specialist or union representative for clarification.

Are First Cousins Immediate Family Members?

First cousins are not normally considered to be immediate family members. However, your employer may have a different policy.

Are Aunts and Uncles Immediate Family Members?

In most cases, aunts and uncles are not considered to be immediate family members. Your employer may have a different policy, however.

According to its dictionary definition, immediate family is limited to a person’s parents, brothers and sisters, spouse, and children. If your employer offers bereavement leave for the loss of an immediate family member, these individuals are the only ones they need to include. Many organizations, like the federal government, choose to expand this definition to the benefit of their employees, however.


  • There are no federal laws requiring employers to provide bereavement leave. In addition, if employers do choose to provide this benefit, it is up to their discretion when determining which family members are classified as immediate. In many cases, this can be limited to an employee's parents, spouse, siblings and children.

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