Incredibly, NC doesn’t give many state employees bereavement leave

work grief May 05, 2024

I didn’t know I didn’t have bereavement leave until my father died. 

Virtually all of us will experience the death of someone we care about while we are working. And when the worst news of our lives happens to us, the least we expect is that we’ll have a few days off work. And maybe someone from the office will send us a spath plant or two.

But, after I got the worst phone call of my life (actually while I was at work), I found out that I didn’t actually have any guaranteed days off as a state employee. I was shocked– and grateful that I had accrued time off beforehand from working way too much overtime. 

Since that awful period four years ago, I’ve wondered: what do state employees do when someone they love suddenly dies, and they don’t already happen to have time off accrued? And how unique is North Carolina in this seemingly inhumane policy of not offering bereavement leave to state employees? 

And since that awful period, I’ve pivoted my own career path to found Grieve Leave. But I just can’t help myself when a policy doesn’t make sense to me…I started researching answers to these wonderings. I started collecting stories of other state employees with similar, awful experiences of finding out they didn’t have bereavement leave. And I started working with leaders in our legislature to take action to change this, once and for all. 

Last week, The Raleigh News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer, North Carolina’s largest newspapers, published an op-ed I wrote that came out of these efforts. 

And this week, a bi-partisan group of North Carolina legislators filed House Bill 996 and Senate Bill 841, which would provide state employees (that includes employees of state agencies and the UNC system, and public school teachers) with three days of bereavement leave when a close family member dies. Thank you for your leadership Rep. Zack Hawkins, Rep. Dennis Riddell, Rep. Vernetta Alston, Rep. Kristin Baker, MD, Sen. Natalie Murdock, and Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed.

Want to support this legislation? If you live in North Carolina, contact your State House and State Senate representatives and tell them to get behind bereavement leave! 

Let’s pass HB 996 and SB 841. 

Read my Op-ed below, as it originally appeared in publication last week:


Unfortunately, each of us will probably experience the death of a loved one while we’re working full-time. In that painful moment of crisis, the last thing on our minds should be clocking in at work for the day. Yet, for our state employees who face a loss, that’s exactly what happens.

Bereavement leave is generally commonplace: about 90% of North Carolina companies provide between three and five days of paid leave for the death of a close family member. But for our hundreds of thousands of state employees and teachers, there is no guaranteed leave when a loved one dies. And because bereavement leave is seen as standard in the private sector, many public employees might only discover they do not have this benefit when they are faced with the death of a loved one — as was the case for me.

I was a senior advisor in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services when my father died suddenly on March 14, 2020. As I was navigating the burial process in the midst of the COVID pandemic, my manager contacted Human Resources to inquire how many days our bereavement leave policy was, only to learn that this designation doesn’t exist. Since then, I have heard similar stories, like the UNC-Chapel Hill employee who exhausted her paid leave and “worked remotely many days from the ICU” while her mother was ill, only to have no leave left when she died. And, the Department of Justice attorney who described piecemeal leave policies as “a Band-Aid on a bullet hole” when she had just watched her father take his last breath.

When a death occurs, state employees must have vacation or sick leave already accrued to use for paid bereavement leave. Public school employees may also be able to use their two annual personal leave days for bereavement, however at least five days’ advance notice must be given.

Neither the Federal Medical Leave Act, — which is unpaid — nor the state’s Family Illness Leave can be used for bereavement. The state does not track how employees use any leave for bereavement, so we have no data on how they manage (or don’t) to cover their pay. Those experiencing a death shouldn’t have to face the additional indignity of cobbling together leave. They deserve a straightforward policy for paid time off.

Bereavement leave is an essential benefit for all employers to provide, particularly in a post-pandemic economy. Employees are given some time and space to grieve with loved ones, instead of being pressured back into an untenable work environment — which can have a high price tag when it comes to reduced productivity and absenteeism. One study put that cost at $75 billion.

Our neighbors in South Carolina and Tennessee have implemented bereavement leave for their public employees. So why haven’t we?

Well, we’ve tried. Between 2005 and 2016, six bills were filed for three days of paid, non-accruable bereavement leave for public employees in North Carolina. None made it out of committee.

This year, we’re going to try again. Rep. Zack Hawkins, a former public school teacher and current state employee, is championing access to bereavement leave. “I know firsthand what it feels like to not have bereavement leave as a state employee,” said Hawkins, who has lost both his son and his mother. “It doesn’t make sense — three days of leave should be a minimum when someone close to you dies.”

Rep. Vernetta Alston, who plans to co-sponsor new legislation alongside Hawkins, said: “After over a decade of attempts to pass this legislation, now is the time to make this simple change for our state employees.”

Those on the front lines of supporting our state and our children do not have the support they deserve. Bereavement leave is the basic expectation of care we should provide to those in our workforce who are grieving. Let’s get behind bereavement leave for North Carolina’s state employees, once and for all.


If you're grieving a loss of any kind while still having to show up to work, I want to share some resources that could help

We have an upcoming free virtual Meet & Grieve focused on navigating grief at work on May 15th at 7 PM EST. You can sign up HERE.

I'd also really encourage you to hop into our grief group chats. It's a judgment-free zone where you can connect with others grieving losses similar to yours. We have a dedicated "grief @ work" chat where you can chat with others who just get it. You can join this free space HERE

Join the Grieve Leave movement

Share your info to join our Grieve Leave community. You don’t want to miss anything!