Working Mothers Group Seeks Bereavement Leave Benefit

Posted: August 4, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

When a loved one dies, the last thing a person wants to worry about is the amount of annual leave or personal time available to properly plan funeral arrangements or grieve for the loss. Two members of the Working Mothers Group at George Mason are attempting to take some of that stress away by appealing to the Commonwealth of Virginia to include bereavement leave in the benefits for employees at George Mason and beyond.

The Commonwealth of Virginia’s current policy does not assign special leave days for bereavement, so an employee can use sick days, personal leave, or annual leave for a death in the family. Heather Aleknavage, executive assistant, College of Arts and Sciences; and Cindy Stocks, production manager, Creative Services, are attempting to change this policy by proposing a plan that would include three to five days of bereavement leave separate from other leave balances employees accrue or obtain each year. When researching the policies of other organizations and institutions in the area, Aleknavage and Stocks discovered three to five days were standard for bereavement leave.

“We are never prepared for unexpected circumstances that cause a great deal of stress and emotional unbalance, but it does happen. It would be nice to have a cushion, to have time that wouldn’t take away from your other leave balances, in case something happened,” says Aleknavage.

Which is exactly what happened to Stocks last year when her father passed away. Assuming she had bereavement leave, Stocks took a few days off to make preparations and to deal with the death in the family. When she returned to work, she was shocked that there was no such thing as bereavement leave for employees. Aleknavage had a similar experience this past June when her grandmother passed away. Because she had very low leave balances, she had to travel across the country and back in just two days.

“It was my personal experience that really ignited the flame and made me really start researching the issue,” Aleknavage says. “It just seems like a benefit that should be in place already.”

Aleknavage took her concerns to George Mason’s Human Resources Department, where she discovered that the university’s hands were tied. Although Linda Harber, assistant vice president of human relations, was enthusiastic about incorporating bereavement leave into employee benefits, George Mason’s leave policy is regulated by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Human Resource Management. In order to change the university’s benefits, Aleknavage and Stocks have to take their request to the next level.

Using a process called the Employee Suggestion Program, they will approach Virginia’s Department of Human Resource Management with their plan. Under their proposal, bereavement leave would be available to state employees with a death in the immediate family and would need to be approved by the employee’s supervisor. Aleknavage believes the cost to the state would be minimal, but the benefit to employees would be immense.

“Perhaps the small change of adding bereavement leave would improve the satisfaction and security not just for Mason employees, but for all state employees. In these economically competitive times, additional benefits would also enhance recruitment and retention efforts,” says Aleknavage.

Aleknavage has acquired a letter of support from Harber, and Tom Hennessey, chief of staff to President Alan Merten, has expressed verbal support for the proposal. She hopes to put the final pitch together to submit at the end of August and would like to include further letters of support. Employees interested in sending a letter can e-mail a note as a Microsoft Word attachment to Aleknavage at

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