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Though rarely discussed, bereavement after the loss of a loved one is a fact of life. What is out of sight tends to be out of mind, meaning it is rare for the topic of bereavement to be discussed in social circles or the mainstream media.
There is a common misconception that employees are not legally entitled to a specific amount of time away from work after a loved one dies. In reality, required bereavement leave is written into California law.
Taking Bereavement Leave After a Family Member’s Passing
The loss of a loved one is an important life event that must be acknowledged by employers. If you live in California and lose a family member, bring it to the attention of your employer. You are legally entitled to bereavement leave, meaning a period of mourning following the loss of a family member.
Your bereavement period is a time for grieving. However, the length of time it takes for you to overcome the loss of a family member might be quite different from the length of time it takes for another person to do the same. What matters most is that your employer is aware of the death in the family and provides the legally mandated period of time for bereavement leave from work.
Aside from grieving, bereavement leave is also used for preparing for and attending a funeral as well as addressing additional matters related to the passing of your loved one.
The Letter of the Law
Though there are no laws at the federal level that mandate employers provide bereavement leave to employees, you are empowered to take time away from your job to mourn. However, the time spent away from work might not be paid leave as you might have exhausted your personal time off, sick days, vacation, and other opportunities for paid time away from your post. Moreover, the specifics of your employer’s bereavement leave policy also determine whether the time off is paid.
We would be remiss not to point out that the federal government is legally empowered to require that employers at the federal level, including contractors, provide bereavement leave to employees after the death of a loved one.
California and four other states have laws on the books that mandate employers to pay bereavement leave. Aside from California, Washington, Oregon, Maryland, and Illinois, the rest of the nation does not require employers to offer bereavement leave.
Payment During Bereavement Leave
The little-known truth is that employers who permit time away from work for bereavement are not legally required to financially compensate employees for that time. However, there is a caveat in that employment agreements or collective bargaining agreements pertaining to union members might specifically state that employers must pay employees who are away on bereavement.
Moreover, there is the potential for private employers to create policies that state employees are to be provided with paid bereavement leave. Some businesses provide paid bereavement leave as a means of rewarding hardworking employees for their contributions, heightening retention rate, and recruiting efforts all the more.
The benefits specific to your bereavement leave are partially dependent on your unique employment classification. As long as the unique bereavement leave benefits for each classification do not discriminate against protected classes, such compensation on a classification basis will hold strong against potential legal challenges.
Salaried, full-time employees tend to receive more paid bereavement time than hourly, part-time, and non-exempt employees as their classification ranks higher on the organizational employment totem pole.
The Applicability of Bereavement Leave
Employees often ask whether the loss of a grandparent, niece, aunt, or uncle allows for bereavement leave. California and four other states require private companies to provide leave for mourning yet federal and other state laws have no such requirement. Therefore, employers are empowered to decide the specific family member deaths that allow for permitted time away from work as detailed in each’s respective bereavement policy.
More often than not, loved ones and immediate family members commonly listed in private employer bereavement leave policies include:
· Parents (including step, in-law, foster, and adoptive parents)
· Domestic partners
In regard to the overarching category of children, most employers provide bereavement leave for biological children as well as the following:
· Children of a domestic partner who is of the same gender
· Foster children
· Adopted children
Private employers are less likely to provide bereavement leave after the death of a sibling, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, roommate, or friend.
How To Plan for Bereavement Leave Outside of California
Bereavement time for planning and attending a funeral and mourning is often taken from sick time, personal time, or vacation time. Though such leave is voluntary, it is almost always granted, even in states outside of California, simply because the loss of a loved one is a significant life event. If you do not live in California or one of the other four states that mandate private employers to give time off from work for bereavement, check your employee handbook, manual, or the language written in workplace policies to learn more about the company’s stance on bereavement leave.
If the employer has a specific practice or policy detailing the time allotted for bereavement, courts and government agencies almost always mandate that the employer honor the terms stated in the practice or policy. Moreover, if you are a member of a union and collective bargaining agreements state employees are to be provided with bereavement leave, your employer must honor the language of that agreement.
Let’s shift our attention to the nuances of a law recently passed in California that shapes the manner in which employees take time off from work to grieve after losing a loved one.
An Inside Look at California’s AB 1949
California residents should be aware that Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 1949 into law in the fall of 2022. The purpose of this law is to protect employee leave for bereavement through a formal state government code. Fast forward to the first day of 2023 and the law officially made it illegal for employers to refuse to provide eligible employees with the opportunity to leave work for five days to mourn the loss of a loved one.
AB 1949 is applicable to organizations with five or more employees. Employees in the state of California should be aware that the five days of leave for mourning are provided through the new law. However, the five days away from work provided by AB 1949 are distinct from the time off from work allowed by the CFRA. CFRA is an acronym for California Family Rights Act that serves as another opportunity for employee-protected leave.
Workers in the state of California are eligible for leave following the loss of a loved one if employed with the same organization for a full 30 days before the start of the bereavement leave period. However, the deaths of only certain loved ones trigger the opportunity to leave for bereavement.
AB 1949 is applicable for the death of qualifying family members, including the following:
· Domestic partners
AB 1949 paves a path for employees to leave work for five days after the death of the family members listed above without capping the total number of bereavement leaves across one’s period of employment.
Mind the Subtleties of AB 1949
If you have lost a loved one or suspect one of your family members might pass away in the near future, you should be aware that AB 1949 allows you to take your five days off intermittently as opposed to consecutively. The leave must be completed within three months of the date that the family member dies. However, the issue of payment for the five days taken off hinges on the employer’s specific bereavement leave policy.
California employees should be aware that employers have the right to request verification that the family member in question actually passed away. Examples of documentation that prove the death occurred include the following:
· A published obituary
· A death certificate
· Written verification
Written verification takes the form of the following:
· Mortuary memorial services
· Death or burial from the funeral home
· Burial society
· Religious organization
If such documentation is required by an employer, it must be submitted within 30 days of the initial day of leave. The documentation provided to prove the death of a loved one must remain confidential in accordance with the law. Furthermore, your identity as a mourner who lost a loved one is also to be kept confidential by your employer.
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