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HR’s Guide to Bereavement Leave in California and Across the US

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7 min read
bereavement leave in california

Bereavement leave is a very sensitive matter. Any employer should approach this issue with care and compassion. Many people find this topic difficult to talk about or express their feelings openly. Therefore, employers and HR managers need to be aware of the best practices for approaching bereavement leave. It will help manage the situation and comfort employees in their time of grief. 

Here, we will break down the past and current bereavement laws in California and compare them with laws in other states.  We’ll discuss different kinds of grievance policies 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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Bereavement Leave Meaning: What is Bereavement Leave?

A question many workers may ponder is “Can you have time off work for a death in the family?” Although the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require employers to provide this leave to employees, many do offer it. It is known as bereavement or compassionate leave

Bereavement is the period of mourning after the death of a loved one. It is typical during this time for people to experience grief. Grief affects us all in different ways. Some may cope better than others. Yet, in some cases, people may be incapable of carrying out the simplest of tasks, let alone working.

In this case, it is common for employees to ask for time off work in order to grieve at home alone or with family. Not only this, but employees may have to deal with a whole host of tasks including funeral arrangements and other pressing post-death matters. Time taken away from work to deal with these matters is commonly known as bereavement time off. 

Of course, when a member of your team suffers a loss, it’s a tough time for everyone. Employees work together every day, and some develop lifelong relationships. As such, colleagues may also feel the burden of another worker’s loss. Morale may be low and it may seem as if there’s a grey cloud hanging over the office. While thinking about the business is important, taking care of your employees and prioritizing their well-being should also be high up on your list of priorities. 

As an employer, it is important that you know the best approach to take to support your employees during this difficult time.

Bereavement vs Funeral Leave

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 to see what 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, attend a funeral, and mourn. Some employers might expect workers to use accrued sick time, floating holidays, or personal time off 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 neither funeral leave nor bereavement leave in California for private-sector workers.

Is Bereavement Leave Paid?

There are no laws surrounding paid bereavement on a federal level, yet individual States, have taken matters into their own hands.

Paid time off for bereavement policy differs from state to state, Oregon is the prime example. This State is one of the only States to have passed a law requiring employers to offer paid leave for bereavement. This law went into effect on January 1st, 2014.

Massachusetts is another state to have recently passed a similar law. It requires that employers must pay workers who take time off in this case. Illinois mandates that employers provide up to 10 days of unpaid leave per death. Maine, on the other hand, now requires employers to offer leave to workers who suffer the death of an active duty member of the Armed Forces. 

Aside from these, there are no other States that have laws related to bereavement leave. If you’re not located in one of the States that enforces these laws, then you are free to make your own company policy; be sure to include it in the employee handbook.

Bereavement Leave California: A History

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.

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 that 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. California state employees must provide documentation of bereavement leave, such as a death certificate or obituary. If the death was out of state, the employee can take two additional unpaid days off.

Bereavement Leave California 2021: 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 California

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 or intermittent 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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Bereavement Policy: What Should You Include?

Like unlimited PTO, businesses currently have total discretion to create their bereavement leave policy.  Some businesses will fold it into a general leave of absence policy. If AB-2999 passes in California, however, employers must be prepared to offer 10 days of unpaid grievance leave to all employees. To create a clear and compassionate policy, businesses across all US states must consider:

How Long is Bereavement Leave?

First and foremost, it is important to establish the amount of time off you’re willing to give to your employees for a bereavement. The most common amount is three days, but this can be amended depending on the worker’s relationship to the deceased.

What Family Members Qualify for Bereavement Leave?

It is commonly asked: who is considered immediate family for bereavement leave. Determine which relationships qualify, depending on your state.

If your state does not mandate paid bereavement leave, decide what works best for your company. 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.

Establish for whom employees are permitted to take leave and make sure to have this clearly stated in your policy. 

Bereavement Leave Pay

As mentioned before, you may or may not be obligated to pay employees for this type of leave. However, despite the legislation, you may wish to include bereavement leave pay as a part of your company’s policy. This is your decision as an employer. Make it clear what you are going to include in your policy to avoid any confusion with workers. 

Eligibility for Leave 

Stating whether all employees will be eligible for this leave is another important issue to consider. If it is not outlined in your state laws, you need to specify who qualifies for bereavement leave. Will it only be for full-time workers? Or will part-time workers also be eligible? Create a policy around what suits your business best. 

Bereavement Leave Proof

In order to ensure that workers are not abusing this policy, it might be a good idea to ask for proof of leave. In this case, it could be a death certificate, obituary or funeral program. Anything that can verify the death will suffice. Although it is a sensitive subject, it is important to ensure that no one takes advantage of his leave.

Make sure to keep track of the time off taken by employees. Keep up-to-date records and documents in order to oversee the management of this leave. 

Tracking Employee Leave Efficiently

Once your bereavement policy is in place, it is crucial to create a system for managing time off requests, PTO, and keeping track of employee leave. 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 and PTO 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.

Written by Valerie Slaughter

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