How Bereavement Leave in California is Changing

Bereavement leave in California has been a long time coming. The first legislation mandating bereavement leave appeared (but did not pass) in 2007. Now, thirteen years later, Assembly Bill 2999 may finally ensure leave to all California employees who have lost loved ones.

Why now? Legislators have said that many Californians may lose loved ones as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic progresses. If passed, this bill will offer job-protected leave to those in mourning.

Here, we will breakdown the past and current bereavement laws in California and answer all of your questions. Is bereavement leave paid in California? Is leave guaranteed by the federal government? Read on to find out.

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A History of Bereavement Leave in California

In 2007, Senator Corbett introduced a measure that would have provided all California employees with four days off for bereavement. Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure, and in 2010, vetoed another which proposed three days of leave. Governor Brown vetoed a similar measure in 2011. It is up to the current Governor Newsom to decide what to do if AB-2999 hits his desk.

Currently, private sector employers do not have to provide bereavement leave in CA, either paid or unpaid. If they wish to take time off to make funeral arrangements or mourn, they can use accrued time off or compensatory time. Although the law does not oblige employers to offer bereavement leave, some may have include bereavement in their company leave policy.

Public employees (those who work for the government) are currently entitled to up to three days of paid bereavement leave. Bereavement leave California state employees must provide documentation, such as a death certificate or obituary. If the death was out of state, the employee can take two additional unpaid days off.

The Future of California’s Bereavement Leave Laws: AB-2999

Is paid bereavement leave mandatory in California? Under the current rules, it is not. AB-2999 also won’t make paid leave mandatory. While this measure does not guarantee bereavement pay, it does guarantee ten unpaid days off for employees and an additional two if the death is out-of-state.

Employees can take leave for the death of a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or domestic partner. Their guaranteed ten days off can be used at any time in any combination in the three months following the death. Employees may also use bereavement leave in conjunction with other personal or vacation leave.

Employers may not penalize employees and must hold the employee’s position until their return. Businesses may require employees to show documentation of the death (by way of a death certificate or obituary) within thirty days of the first day of bereavement leave.

This measure will apply to all businesses in California, regardless of size. There is no length-of-service requirement in the bill, so employees can take bereavement leave as soon as they start. Only those with collective bargaining agreements that explicitly address bereavement leave will be exempt.

FMLA and Bereavement Leave in CA

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that guarantees workers around the country 12 weeks of unpaid time off. FMLA only covers businesses that are larger than 50 employees, and only applies to employees who have worked at least a year for their employer. If they qualify, employees can use this time off for:

  • The birth and care of a newborn child or placement of an adopted or foster child.
  • Caring for an immediate family member.
  • Medical leave if an employee is unable to work.

Can you apply FMLA for bereavement leave? Under the current law, an employee cannot use FMLA job-protected leave to attend a funeral or make arrangements for someone who has passed. Employees may receive time off to care for family members, but once the family member passes, employees technically no longer qualify for leave.

CFRA and Leave in California

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) mirrors FMLA, offering 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees. It also stipulates that employees can receive up to six weeks of Family Temporary Disability Insurance (FTDI) over a 12-month period. As with FMLA, this time can only be used for parental leave or if the employee or a family member is ill.

‌If AB-2999 passes, all employees will be entitled to ten days of unpaid, job-protected bereavement leave state of California.

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What is the Difference between Funeral Leave vs. Bereavement Leave in California?

Some employers may differentiate between “funeral leave” and “bereavement leave.” The exact language will depend on the company’s policy. Employees should check their contract or employee handbook for which applies to them.

  • Funeral Leave is usually two or three days off. Employers expect that employees will use this time to attend a funeral. In some businesses, employees may be able to take funeral leave to attend the service of someone who isn’t immediate family.
  • Bereavement Leave is usually a week or two of time off. Workers use this time to make arrangements, to attend a funeral, and to mourn. Some employers might expect workers to use accrued sick time or personal days rather than offering this kind of leave.

In the eyes of the law, funeral leave would fall under the umbrella of bereavement. However, as it stands, there is currently is neither funeral leave nor bereavement leave in CA for private-sector workers.

Making Your Company’s Bereavement Leave Policy

In California, businesses currently have total discretion to create their bereavement leave policy. To create a clear and compassionate policy, businesses must consider:

  1. How long is the time off they will offer, and if it will be paid or unpaid time?
  2. Which relationships qualify for bereavement leave. Some businesses may only offer leave for immediate family members, such as parents, siblings, spouses, and children. Others will have more comprehensive plans for grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and even friends.
  3. A process by which employees can request time off for bereavement.
  4. How to administer and track time off.

Some businesses will fold it into a general leave of absence policy. If AB-2999 passes, however, employers must be prepared to offer 10 days of unpaid bereavement leave to all employees.

Tracking Leave Efficiently

Employers need to track time off in order to make sure that they are in compliance with federal and local regulations. California already offers some of the most comprehensive unpaid and paid time off laws in the country. Employers in California must respect employees’ rights to time off.

Leave tracking software may help employers to stay on top of different kinds of leave, such as accrued sick leave and parental leave. Managers can create different categories of leave (sick days, maternity leave, bereavement leave) and employees can select which applies. This will make it easier for employees to keep the schedule balanced and workflow moving.

Bereavement leave in California is not yet guaranteed by law in California, but it may be very soon. Proactive employers will get the systems in place to support employees in their time of need.

Manage Employee Bereavement Leave Compassionately.

Written by Valerie Slaughter

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