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ERAC Helping To Refine Lehigh's Funeral Leave Policies

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    In the fall of 2010, the Employee Relations Advisory Committee (ERAC) discussed a variety of topics with colleagues, including communications, compensation/benefits, work/life balance, and equity. 

    After compiling feedback from these conversations, ERAC members identified common themes and established two front runner topics to address during the 2010-2011 academic year. One of the front runners is compensation, including paid leave. 

    As part of the compensation front runner efforts, ERAC has formed a sub-group focusing on Lehigh's Funeral Leave Policy

Issues of Concern

    Almost everyone has experienced the loss of a loved one. As an employer, Lehigh University strives to ease the burden of this difficult time by providing a compassionate leave policy to its staff.

    The ERAC compensation sub-group researched bereavement policies at comparable institutions and evaluated Lehigh's current policy to help make it a more equitable policy for all employees. Two issues were pinpointed for discussion.

  1. The definition of "family" has changed over the years and ERAC wished to recognize the changing dynamics within family units. 
  2. Staff members have families located around the globe, and this might require added flexibility for extended travel time to attend funerals and manage with issues that result from losing a loved one.

Inclusive Language To Match Inclusive Practices

    When Lehigh’s benefits policies expanded to include same sex domestic partners in 2003 and opposite sex domestic partners in 2007, the goal was to equally apply all benefits. This included funeral leave. The language of the funeral leave policy was amended at that time to add the words “domestic partner.”

    Although it was not made fully explicit in the policy, since 2003, the Human Resources Office (HR) has administered the policy identically for married couples and domestic partners. For instance, the death of an employee’s domestic partner’s mother would be considered that of a mother-in-law.

    In their review of the policy, ERAC’s sub-group found that the current language didn’t give employees a clear understanding of the benefit. They also believed that certain relationships were missing from the policy.

    HR listened to ERAC’s concerns and, working with the sub-group, clarified the policy using the following language (new wording is indicated in yellow):

    Employees are entitled to up to five days absence with pay in the event of death in the immediate family. Immediate family includes spouse or domestic partner, children, father, mother, brother, or sister. Employees are entitled to up to three days absence with pay in the event of the death of a father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law, or daughter-in-law. Up to one day’s absence with pay will be allowed in the event of the death of grandparents, great grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, or nephews. Leaves to attend funerals of other relatives may be granted at the discretion of the employee’s supervisor.

For purposes of this policy relationships should be considered broadly:
  • the relatives of a domestic partner are covered just as they are for a spouse,
  • individuals who stood in the same relationship for the employee as a mentioned relative are covered for that level of benefit.

    Funeral leave is granted for either making necessary burial arrangements or attending a funeral, and may be taken intermittently for these purposes. The supervisor may request written confirmation of the need for leave, such as a death notice.

    The entire policy may be read here.

Other Concerns To Be Shared With BART

    ERAC is also working on a proposal to enhance funeral leave benefits to possibly include additional days in the case of relatives who are located a great distance from the Lehigh area.

    Because this enhancement would have budget implications, it must be shared with the Benefits Allocation Review Team (BART). BART is reviewing all of Lehigh’s benefits to ensure the overall package is serving the needs of employees and the university. Their recommendations will be shared with the Lehigh community in the early fall.

Mourning The Loss Of A Colleague

    In addition to discussing funeral leave for family members, the ERAC sub-group reviewed language in the university’s policy regarding the protocol for the death of current Lehigh employee. In particular, ERAC felt it was important to address situations in which all members of an office or department wish to attend a funeral or memorial service.

The policy has been clarified to include the following paragraph:

    It is possible that all individuals in the deceased faculty or staff member’s office or department may wish to attend the funeral or memorial service for the employee. In those cases, the department may need to make alternative staffing arrangements for that date, or, if approved by the responsible vice president or dean, close for the event. Departments or offices that will be closed during normal business hours should notify the campus via the Lehigh Daily News and Staff News Digest.

    ERAC and HR will continue working together on such issues in the future. If you have any questions about the new language in these policies, feel free to contact ERAC at or Human Resources at

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