Grief and the American Workplace

By: Derek Demeri
On: November 27, 2021

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Do Employers Typically Offer Paid Bereavement Leave?

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Most businesses do offer their employees some form of bereavement leave, and some government employers offer general employment leave, which allows employees to take time off for bereavement. In other cases, employers offer bereavement leave, but such leave is unpaid, meaning that employers can take time off, but won’t receive compensation for the time away. Surprisingly, there is no federal law requiring that employers offer bereavement leave. Furthermore, many states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, do not require employers to allow bereavement leave. As a result, the type of leave you may (or may not) have access to varies from job to job.

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Does the Fair Labor Standards Act allow for Bereavement Leave?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (or FLSA) is a federal law that sets a number of standards that employers must follow in order to ensure you are fairly compensated for the work you perform. The FLSA sets the national minimum wage, limits child labor except in specific circumstances, establishes the number of hours an employee can work, and requires employers to keep records of their employees’ time worked and pay. However, the FLSA does not require bereavement leave. This is because the FLSA does not require employers to pay employees for time not worked. Thus, time spent at a funeral or grieving is not compensable because the employee is not working during those hours.

Do States have Laws in Place Allowing Bereavement Leave for Employees?

Very few states have laws requiring employers to offer bereavement leave for their employees. Oregon and Washington are the only states that require every employer to offer bereavement leave. In Illinois, employers with 50 or more employees are required to offer bereavement leave. Similarly, employers in Maryland are required to offer bereavement leave if they have 15 or more employees. Every other state does not require employers to offer bereavement leave at all.

What is New Jersey’s Proposed Bereavement Policy for Employees?

Though not every state currently offers bereavement leave, several states have discussed introducing legislation that would change that standard. New Jersey is one example. The currently proposed bill states that in addition to accruing sick time proportional to the number of hours worked, employees are entitled to receive a “one-time paid sick leave credit for each occasion of bereavement leave with full pay and benefits.” The amount of time granted is dependent on the circumstances. More specifically, employees would be entitled to three days of leave for the death of a close family member, such as a child, spouse, parent, grandparent, or domestic partner. Employees would also be entitled to three days of bereavement leave following a miscarriage or the termination of a pregnancy in situations where it is known that the fetus will not survive or will put the mother’s health in danger. Finally, one day of bereavement leave would be available to employees for the death of someone with which the employee has a close association.

The New Jersey bill is unique in that it does not limit bereavement leave to circumstances in which a close family member dies. If a significant other or fiancé passes away, the other party will be able to take time off of work. It also acknowledges that time to grieve is necessary for a close friend and for traumatic losses associated with pregnancy and giving birth. These clauses ensure that employees will not lose their employment or their pay and benefits for wishing to take time off of work to grieve these events.

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Has Federal Protection for Employees, Such as a Standard Paid Bereavement Policy, been Proposed Recently?

With Americans across the country experiencing unprecedented loss in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, conversations about the need for a Federal mandate allowing for bereavement leave have been on the rise. In April of 2021, President Biden announced the American Families Plan, which included a promise to create a national comprehensive paid family and medical leave program for working Americans. The proposal suggested, among other things, that employees get at least three days of bereavement leave per year. However, last month the Senate abandoned the inclusion of bereavement leave proposal, thus denying employees a guaranteed right to relief in the aftermath of the death of a loved one. Therefore, the future of a Federal bereavement leave mandate is still questionable.

Can FMLA be used for Attending a Funeral or Bereavement?

While FMLA gives eligible employees the right to take unpaid time off work to care for sick family members, the law does not cover bereavement leave or time off to attend funerals. This is because the law operates on the fact that time off is needed to care for the sick family member, so when a family member dies, the employee is no longer providing care. As a result, bereavement leave is left to whether or not your employer offers time off for bereavement or not.

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Contact Zeff Law Firm if your Employer is not Honoring their Bereavement Policy

Bereavement leave varies from employer to employer. However, if your employment contract or your employee handbook states you are entitled to bereavement leave, your employer may have to honor that agreement. If you believe you’re entitled to benefits related to bereavement that your employer is not adhering to, contact Zeff Law Firm today.

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