BEREAVEMENT LEAVE « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


What to Do When There’s a Death in the Family

On Monday morning, one of your two salespeople requests three days off to attend his grandmother’s funeral in Minnesota. On Thursday, the other salesperson requests five days off to attend the funeral of a loved one in Hawaii. Are you legally obligated to grant either or both requests? If so, must you pay for the time off? Can you require employees to use accrued vacation or paid time off (PTO) time?

Currently there are no California or federal laws granting private-sector employees the right to bereavement leave. Since 2007, California governors have vetoed all such leave bills.
In his 2010 veto, Governor Schwarzenegger stated, “While well-intended, the choice of whether or not to offer unpaid bereavement leave should be left to the employer. Further, this bill would impose new and somewhat ambiguous burdens on businesses as well as subjecting them to new threats of litigation over California-specific employment laws. During this challenging economic period, I am unwilling to add new burdens on them and subject them to new grounds for lawsuits.” In Governor Brown’s 2011 veto of a similar bill, he declared: “Granting bereavement leave when a close family member dies is the moral and decent thing to do and I believe that the vast majority of employers voluntarily make such an accommodation for the loss of a loved one.”

Although a California employer is under no obligation to do so, it is good practice to implement policy confirming whether and under what circumstances the company will grant bereavement leave. It should be clear, consistent, and yet flexible enough to tactfully address each unique situation. A bereavement policy should address:

  • The amount of bereavement time the employee may take off, if any;
  • Whether part-time or temporary employees are eligible;
  • The definition of a “family member” for whom the bereavement leave may be taken;
  • If the employee’s time off will be paid or unpaid;
  • Whether the employee is required to use accrued vacation or PTO time;
  • Company discretion to consider all relevant factors and to impose conditions in granting such leaves, including reconciling simultaneous requests; and
  • The required elements for a leave request, including whether the employee should submit documentation such as an obituary or funeral notice.

For further information, please contact one of our attorneys: Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

Cindy Bamforth
October 12, 2016