A reader writes:
Our company’s bereavement policy is pretty standard. For immediate family (parent, sibling, child, spouse), we have three days from time of passing to the funeral service, and one day of bereavement for non-immediate family (grandparent, aunt, uncle.) I’ve had to use it once myself and had no issues — when I returned, my director asked for an obituary, I sent him a link to the online obituary and no further questions were asked. In another case, a relative was not deemed as being eligible for bereavement time, and I was told that I would need to use PTO time for the absence.
Now, I am a supervisor of my department of about 20 people. I’ve had to apply for bereavement time for two employees since taking over, and it was as simple as my own experience. Both were one-day leaves, and they got the obituary to me as soon as they returned.
About a month ago, an employee, “Jane,” came to me to say that her stepfather was in hospice and asked what our leave policy was. I confirmed with HR that a stepfather was eligible for the same amount of leave as a parent (I felt odd about asking, but I wanted to make sure that I understood the policy). I forwarded the information to Jane, including letting her know my own experience of getting the link to the obituary to my boss.
On a Thursday night, I got a text from Jane saying that her stepfather only had a few hours to live and that she was going to be with him. I gave her my condolences and asked her to stay in touch so that I would know how to schedule around her absence. My next communication from Jane was Monday morning after the start of her shift. She said that her stepfather has passed over the weekend and the service was the next day so she would be back on Wednesday. Again, I gave her my condolences and assured her that we’d cover her work for her.
While she was gone on Tuesday, Payroll asked me for a copy of the obituary since I had put in for her bereavement time to have started on Friday. I told them that I didn’t have it yet, but I’m sure that I would get it from Jane when she came in the next day. To try to confirm this, I sent a text to Jane which went unanswered. I wasn’t too worried about this since she was at a funeral after all.
The next day, Jane returned and was rather flustered when I asked her for a copy of the obituary. I apologized and told her that I wasn’t trying to make her upset but that payroll needed it in order to pay her for the days she had been out. By the end of the day, she had forwarded me an email from a secretary at the funeral home that stated “We apologize that the obituary is not ready. Please find the attached note to certify that Jane Smith was at our location.” The attached note looked like a doctor’s excuse note and stated that Jane had been at their location on Friday, Monday, and Tuesday regarding Mr. Jones arrangements. I forwarded this to Payroll and figured that the case was closed.
Payroll contacted me the next day to say that the note was fine to certify the dates of services but still needed something that proved the date of passing (not on the note) as well as her relationship to the deceased. After checking the funeral home’s website to see if the obituary had been posted yet, I mentioned to Jane what Payroll had said about the note. Jane was immediately defensive and then let it slip that he hadn’t died until Saturday. I told her that if he hadn’t died until Saturday, then Friday would not be counted as bereavement time since we only cover from the time of passing to the service. She was upset and said, “I don’t know why you can’t just take that note I already gave you. How was I supposed to know that he wasn’t going to die until Saturday?” I was a little taken aback by this. I also had to take time off so that I could be with a loved one during their final hours, and I counted that as well worth the PTO time spent.
I suggested to Jane that she contact the funeral home again to see about the obituary or if they could provide any other documents relating to time of passing. I also went to see my director because I felt like I was getting in over my head.
I should mention at this point that Jane and my director don’t get along. We’ve had multiple issues with absenteeism with her. We accrue PTO time by number of hours worked, and it seems like whenever she has 8 hours saved up, she uses them right away even though i warn her against it. She had just enough time for one day at the time this happened. She’s also been caught in several ethical dilemmas, and was almost fired this fall when she was caught cheating on an aptitude test for a possible promotion. HR only decided to keep her because I had not specifically told her that she should not get help from others in that department on the test. Afterwards, Jane went to HR and said that my director had said a lot of hurtful and inflammatory things about her. I don’t know if it was true since I was on vacation at the time, but my director got in hot water.
So, I went to see my director about the missing obituary problem and the problem of the dates. He immediately erupts that she’s obviously lying and playing me for a fool. “Why wouldn’t a funeral home print an obituary before a funeral,” he demanded. Now I am feeling incredibly sheepish and uncertain. There is a part of me that does not want to believe that someone would lie about something as important as this. That same part feels incredibly sick about having to question someone about this. Another part of me just feels like I’m an idiot and she’s been playing me the whole time.
Now Jane has sent me a link to the county’s vital records sites that shows a death certificate (with date of passing) is being processed under the name that she has provided. I forwarded this down to payroll, but they have stated that this still doesn’t prove her relationship to the deceased — especially since neither she nor her mother share the same last name as the deceased. (I can think of multiple reasons for this in the modern age but none that help here). Payroll is willing to wait until Monday for an obituary.
What do I do? Should I contact the funeral home myself? I feel like I have bungled this terribly, but I’m not sure what I should have done differently. Am i just letting my own personal experience with loss get in the way?
The bigger issue than the bereavement situation is that you have an employee who you don’t trust, who has had multiple problems with absenteeism, has had several “ethical dilemmas,” and was caught cheating on a test for a promotion.
The obituary issue seems like the least of your worries.
In this specific situation, however, I’d be more concerned about mistreating someone who really may have just had a close relative die than I am about the possibility that she might get an extra bereavement day that she’s not entitled to. So personally, I’d let this go and just make sure she understands what’s required for bereavement leave going forward.
And then I’d watch her like an absolute hawk in the future, because some with all the issues you’ve described is going to mess up again, and you want to spot it when she does. Totally aside from the current issue, she doesn’t sound like someone you should keep on your staff, and I’d keep your eyes open for the next time she demonstrates that.
But if your company won’t let you handle it that way and insists that you sort out the bereavement issue in some conclusive way, then all you can really do is tell Jane what the policy requires, specifically. An obituary that lists her or her mother as relatives? Something else? Find out what your company will accept, and then let Jane know.
I would not call the funeral home yourself — you really don’t want the story line among other employees to be “While Jane was mourning the death of a parent figure, Lucinda was doubting her story and calling the funeral home to ask questions.”
And you’ll probably have more credibility with your boss if you acknowledge that there are serious issues with Jane, totally aside from the current situation, and that you’re going to aggressively dealing with those going forward — to the point of firing her if they continue — but that you don’t think the possible/likely death of a family member is the time to take a stand.