Sheryl Sandberg: Facebook Employees Now Get 20 Paid Days to Mourn a Family Death

Feb 07, 2017

Over the past couple of years, Silicon Valley's conversation about paid leave has largely revolved around the arrival of children, with tech companies racing to one-up one another in a parental leave "arms race."

But on Tuesday, Facebook took a different tack, announced a new addition to its benefits package: paid bereavement leave. The company now offers 20 days of time off for employees mourning the death of an immediate family member, and 10 days for that of a member of their extended family. The benefit, which went into effect Jan. 1, doubles the amount of leave previously granted to employees dealing with a death in the family.

Facebook (fb) COO Sheryl Sandberg announced the updated policy at the 2017 MAKERS conference as well as in a post on her Facebook page, where she wrote about her personal experience with both maternity and bereavement leave:

When my son was born and I could take time off to focus on him. When my daughter came along and I got that time all over again. Every time one of them got sick, both my husband Dave and I had the ability to leave work to take care of them so we could decide whose turn it was to supply the patient with ginger ale. And then amid the nightmare of Dave's death when my kids needed me more than ever, I was grateful every day to work for a company that provides bereavement leave and flexibility. I needed both to start my recovery.

Since the death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, Sandberg has frequently spoken publicly about death and mourning, and is currently co-writing a book on the topic with Wharton professor Adam Grant. The book, called Option B, will focus on coping with loss and difficult circumstances, weaving in research with personal stories—including Sandberg’s own.

The title of the book reportedly comes from a conversation Sandberg had with a friend in the wake of Goldberg's death. The COO was talking about finding someone to take Goldberg's place in an upcoming father-child activity. "But I want Dave. I want option A," said Sandberg. The friend's response: "Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the sh—t out of option B."

In her Tuesday Facebook post, Sandberg acknowledges how lucky she was to have had the time off to properly mourn and notes that few U.S. workers have the same luxury:

People should be able both to work and be there for their families. No one should face this trade-off. We need public policies that make it easier for people to care for their children and aging parents and for families to mourn and heal after loss. Making it easier for more Americans to be the workers and family members they want to be will make our economy and country stronger.

The Fair Labor Standards Act does not currently require payment for time off while mourning the death of a loved one (or attending a funeral). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 60% of all workers and 71% of full-time workers currently get bereavement leave. Policies are typically limited to three days for the death of an immediate family member and one day for that of extended family members.

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Facebook's benefits package got a few other updates last month. Employees now receive six weeks of paid leave within a 12-month period to be with a family member who has a long-term illness and three days to take care of a family member with a short-term illness. That's in addition to the company's current offering of four months of paid parental leave for new parents, 21 days of vacation, and unlimited sick leave.

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