Collateral Beauty: A Look at Bereavement in the Workplace

The unexpected death of a loved one can literally zap the life out of anyone. After the devastating loss of his six-year-old daughter, Howard Inlet copes with her death by writing letters to Love, Time and Death. Writing letters to the universe might sound a bit bizarre; nevertheless, Collateral Beauty is a heartfelt film that actually shows why some employees need more time to cope.

While many companies allow employees paid time off to attend funeral services for close relatives and some allow workers to attend the funeral of friends, if a worker is still struggling with the loss, requiring them to come back to work too soon could be catastrophe. Likewise, when the company cannot afford to lose an employee who is a lifeline to its success, the damage to the overall health of the business as well as other workers could be horrendous.

collateral_beauty_postersIn Collateral Beauty, Howard Inlet (Will Smith) was a successful New York advertising executive. He retreated from life after loosing his child. Although Howard returned to work, the business soon began to hemorrhage, but he could not do anything to help. Throughout most of the movie, despondent Howard watched things fall apart in life. He even failed to respond to the mother of his daughter, partners, and key clients when they needed him. His inability to handle loss asphyxiated Howard to the point that the company was about to flatline.

Since Howard held the majority stake (60%) in their business, the partners could not sell as long as he was unresponsive. Therefore, they resorted to drastic measures to make him look incompetent. The partners arranged for him to receive personal responses from the letters he wrote. His so-called friends actually hired a private investigator to follow him. She confiscated his letters from the mailbox and shared his innermost thoughts with all of them. Later, these same “friends” paid three actors roughly $20,000 each to play the roles of Death, Time and Love so the investigator could capture each encounter to force Howard’s hand to sign the necessary papers. I am sure you can guess what ensued. However, you might be wrong!

Bereavement policies should not be absolute. For some employees, it may take a few days (3 days) to get back to work. However, others simply need more time. Seriously, how productive can an employee be at work if their mind is near catatonic? Unfortunately, for some workers like Howard, it can take what seems like years before they can get back to life. To sum, everyone is different.

Employers are not required under the Fair Labor Standards Act to pay workers for time off to attend a funeral. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “60% of all workers and 71% of full-time workers receive paid funeral leave due to a death in the family.” Many employers limit bereavement leave to a few paid days for immediate family members and a day for other relatives.

Based on the Society for Human Resources Management’s (SHRM) 2016 Employee Benefits report, 81% of employers provide paid days for bereavement leave. It suggests that workers usually receive four days off or less when a spouse or child dies. Employers also give three days for a domestic partner, foster child, grandchild, parent, sibling, or grandparent as well as one or two days for extended family members.


Employees Need Time to Mourn

Tech companies are changing bereavement policies for the better. As an example, Facebook recently expanded its bereavement policy and paid leave for employees who are taking care of sick family members. The social network’s generous new policy gives employees 20 days of paid leave for the death of an immediate family member and 10 days for extended family. Employees can also take six weeks of paid leave within a rolling 12-month period to care for a sick family member.

“People should be able to work and be there for their families. No one should face this trade-off.”

– Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO


Concurring with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, “People should be able to work and be there for their families. No one should face this trade-off.” If a worker needs more time to grieve, adequate paid time is vital to that end. Sheryl has spoken publicly about mourning her husband Dave Goldberg, then CEO of SurveyMonkey. She also conveyed how her experience as a mother and the nightmare surrounding his unexpected death in 2015 shaped her perspective.

Eventually, Howard realized each moment in life is full of meaning and beauty even while coping with loss. Nonetheless, the ill-advised scheme Howard’s partners pulled off turned out to be a teachable moment for them all: We are all connected! You see, sometimes in life, it is hard for some of us to truly see the forest for the trees. Now… if you have not seen Collateral Beauty, please be sure to take off your rose colored glasses, so you can truly see its meaning from an unconventional perspective.


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