Bereavement Leave

Losing a loved one is never easy.  No one wants to make the situation worse by adding problems at work on top of the pain of grieving.  Unfortunately, for many of our callers, that is exactly what can happen if you ask for time off due to the death of a loved one and your employer says “no.”  If someone close to you has died, does your employer have to allow you to take time off for bereavement leave?

In general, there is no law that requires employers to allow time off for bereavement leave, for grieving, or for attending funerals or memorial services.  However, there are also circumstances in which an employer not allowing such leave could possibly be considered a violation of law.  Let’s look at some of the circumstances where you may have a claim for denial of time off for bereavement leave.

One reason it may be illegal to deny an employee time off to grieve a loved one is if the employer is acting discriminatorily in refusing to approve leave.  While an employer is not specifically required to allow bereavement leave in most cases, it IS illegal to treat an employee worse because of the employee’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, height, weight, marital status, military membership, or a disability.  It is also illegal to treat an employee worse because the employee engaged in a “protected activity,” such as complaining about discrimination or failure to pay overtime or for exercising a protected right such as taking legally-protected medical leave or filing a claim for worker’s compensation.  If your employer has allowed other employees in similar situations to take bereavement leave, but has denied you the approval to take leave because of a discriminatory or retaliatory motive, that counts as discrimination and / or retaliation and is illegal.

Another reason an employer may have to allow an employee to take bereavement leave is a contract, either a collective bargaining agreement with a union or an employment contract with the employee directly.  Many contractual agreements in employment situations allow for a certain amount of time off, paid or unpaid, for general use or specifically for the loss of a loved one.  In those situations, failure to allow an employee to take leave that they are entitled to take under a contractual agreement would be considered a breach of contract.

If you have requested time off due to the loss of a loved one and believe that your employer denied your request for time off for illegal reasons, please call Gold Star Law for help.