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Why Empathetic Employers Are Offering Bereavement Benefits

A new layer of support for grieving employees at the most difficult time of their lives

Posted on January 31, 2022 by ClearEstate
Employer bereavement benefits for Canadians

How we view health and wellness, and what those concepts mean in a practical sense, has advanced dramatically in recent years and even more rapidly since the onset of the pandemic.

A growing number of employers are stepping up and taking a more active role in their employees’ wellbeing. The trend includes the broadening of employee benefits packages, going beyond the annual massage and full dental, and adding other meaningful resources like access to medical specialists, financial literacy programs and even Bereavement Benefits to help ease the pain of losing a loved one.

Seeing the strain that pandemic casualties have had on Canadian workers, the federal government is in the process of amending the Labour Code to extend the right to workplace bereavement leave from five to ten days; the right to paid or extended leave varies by province but most Canadians do not have financial support to help cope with the loss of a family member, let alone estate settlement resources from professional services.

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An Undeniable Pandemic Trend

As leaders of organizations enter a third year of crisis management, it is becoming clear that the strongest, happiest workforces are the ones with robust benefits packages.

Such plans offered by larger employers should include assistance with estate planning and settlement, which can be especially draining if a death comes unexpectedly.

Bereavement Benefits are not to be confused with what’s often called “Death Benefits,” or special payments made by a private insurer when the insured party passes away. Death Benefits may also refer to a lump-sum payment made by a government to a widow or widower in the event of their partner’s passing. In Canada, the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) death benefit is a one-time payment, payable to the estate or an eligible beneficiary, on behalf of a deceased CPP contributor.

A company’s responsibility to employee wellness could certainly be viewed as a moral obligation; it is an act of compassion to take care of people who devote so much of their time to an organization. But it also makes good business sense. Prolonged absences from work are normal during the grieving process but can certainly be offset with helpful, tech-enabled support from key professionals.

“The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is bringing the topic of wills and estate planning out of the dark and into the light for some employers,” noted human resources industry observer Benefits Canada. The pandemic has “emphasized estate planning as a natural extension of a company’s responsibility to its employees.”

Follow The Leaders

Given the renewed focus on employee wellness and mental health, technology leaders in particular are adding Bereavement Benefits as they have unique insights into just how much grief costs us all.

The social networking giant Facebook began to boost its bereavement programs in 2017, doubling leave to “20 days paid following the loss of an immediate family member and up to 10 for an extended family member,” reported the Harvard Business Review.

Dealing with employee grief and implementing new Bereavement Benefits programs requires careful planning with a human resources professional close to the organization. The nature of the benefit (paid leave, estate planning, settlement support, etc.) will vary depending on the organization’s resources, and even words used to describe the plans are worth close consideration.

For example, HBR suggests discussing how the organization defines “family”. Does the benefit apply to the passing of extended family members or close friends? Is it appropriate to ask for proof of death? Should grief counseling be offered explicitly or made available discreetly?

As leaders navigate uncharted territory, keeping the lines of communication open and acting with empathy first is key since the grieving process is so closely tied to one’s mental health, personal finances and overall wellness.

Since the loss of a loved one is such an important event in a person’s life, and because the related paperwork and surprising red tape can be so challenging, the emergence of a new type of bereavement benefit supporting estate settlement and planning will only further wellness within workforces.

Time is Precious and it Heals

Anyone who has served as the executor of an estate can tell you that it is a lengthy and time-consuming ordeal that is only worsened by the overwhelming burden of grief.

A Canadian estate will generally take about 18 months to settle and cost a family an average of about $10,000. It’s not a question of whether or not workplace productivity and employee wellness are affected, but to what extent.

In a best-case scenario, one may only have to go through this once or twice in a lifetime, for each parent. Grieving, making funeral arrangements and settling the estate while juggling a full-time career is simply too much for any one person to take on.

Those with greater resources are shielded to some degree from this pain typically by teams of lawyers, trustees, notaries and other professionals. The average working Canadian isn’t nearly as well-supported.

If time heals all wounds, everyone should be entitled to mourning time — and professional guidance to avoid wasting time on government paperwork — in order to come to terms with the loss and regain strength. There is no reason for colleagues to continue suffering through these difficult periods without a helping hand from friends.

ClearEstate is building customized Bereavement Benefits packages for organizations. For more information, write to hello@clearestate.com.