What are the Bereavement Leave Laws in California?

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When a family member dies, you might need time off to grieve, plan and attend the funeral, and tie up loose ends. The technical term for this time off is bereavement leave.

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If you live in California, you should be aware of how bereavement leave works in your state. Below, we’ll explain bereavement leave in California and in the U.S. as a whole.

Is Bereavement Leave Mandatory in California? 

Bereavement leave isn’t mandatory in California. If you work for a private employer, they don't have to offer time off (paid or unpaid) for bereavement. 

The U.S. Department of Labor doesn’t mandate bereavement leave. This leaves individual states to decide upon their bereavement leave laws. States create their laws for employers when it comes to bereavement leave. But only three states, Oregon, Maine, and Illinois, currently have laws mandating time off for bereavement, and these laws only apply to certain people.

If you live in any other state, your bereavement leave depends on your employer. That includes private employees in the state of California.

Government workers have different bereavement benefits than those employed by private companies.  If you work for the State of California, you may receive up to three days off

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How to Get Bereavement Leave Through an Employer

If you live and work in California, your employer doesn't have to offer bereavement leave. But many employers in the state choose to offer bereavement leave anyway. Most employers who offer bereavement leave provide three to five days off from work.

You can think of bereavement leave as an employee benefit like sick days or holiday pay. Not every employer has a bereavement leave policy in place, but many do. If you work for an employer with more than 25 employees, it’s even more likely that they offer a leave.

Your workplace might offer specific bereavement leave. An example would be if you get three paid days off after the death of an immediate family member. Otherwise, your employer might defer to general time-off policies for bereavement leave. For example, time off after a loss might come out of your sick-day or vacation allotment.

You can find policies for bereavement leave in your employment contract. If you didn’t keep a copy of this signed agreement, speak to your supervisor at work about getting a replacement.

Funeral Leave vs. Bereavement Leave in California

Some employers differentiate between “funeral leave” and “bereavement leave.” Your contract might include one form or the other—or both.

Whether you live in California or elsewhere, you should know the difference between funeral leave and bereavement leave.

Note that both of these terms fall under the umbrella of “bereavement leave."

  • Funeral leave is what you typically think of when you think of bereavement leave. It’s the short period you take off following a death. The time allotted is usually about three days, and you can use it to plan and attend a funeral.
  • Bereavement leave is a type of sick leave meant for grieving a loss. Many employers offer one or two weeks of general paid sick leave per year, which you can use for bereavement. You might also have specific paid time off designated as bereavement sick leave.

Can You Use FMLA for Bereavement Leave?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandates paid time off for some employees, including those in California.

FMLA applies to:

  • All public agencies
  • All public and private elementary and secondary schools
  • Companies with 50 or more employees

FMLA grants employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off per year. These 12 weeks include a guarantee of job- and benefits-protection. Unfortunately, FMLA does not apply to bereavement leave. You can only use FMLA-granted time off for:

  • The birth and care of a newborn child
  • The placement of a foster child or the adoption of a child
  • Caring for an immediate family member
  • Medical leave if you’re unable to work because of a serious health condition.

If an immediate family member requires care because of a serious illness, you can take FMLA time off. But if your family member passes away, that FMLA-granted time off comes to an end.

How Can You Use Bereavement Leave?

Unlike general paid time off, you can't take bereavement leave any time you want. In fact, some employers ask for evidence of the death before you can qualify for bereavement leave.

Employers usually expect you to use funeral leave to make funeral arrangements, even get a bereavement flight, and attend the service. As mentioned above, bereavement leave may apply more generally to time you need to grieve a loss.

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Bereavement Leave in California FAQs

Bereavement leave is meant to provide relief when someone close to you dies. But you can only take advantage of this designated time off if you know how it works.

Below are a few of the frequently-asked questions about bereavement leave in the state of California and in general.

Who is considered immediate family for bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave often applies to “immediate family” only. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management lists these relationships as immediate family members:

  • Spouses and domestic partners
  • Parents, step-parents, and parents-in-law
  • Foster parents and guardians
  • Children, foster children, and step-children
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Grandparents
  • Grandchildren
How long can bereavement leave last?

Many private companies offer three days paid bereavement leave for the death of an immediate family member. If a friend or other relative has died, your employer might offer a one-day paid bereavement leave period.

State and federal governments have different rules and regulations for their employees. If you’re a federal worker you may be entitled to up to 13 days of sick leave for family care and bereavement purposes. This is in addition to the standard three-day funeral leave allotted to federal employees. You’ll likely need to present evidence to support your request for extra time off.

Is bereavement leave usually paid or unpaid?

Paid bereavement leave isn’t mandated by the State of California or the U.S. government. However, more than half of all bereavement leave in the private sector is paid. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 60 percent of all private workers have access to paid funeral leave.

Whether your bereavement leave is paid or unpaid depends on your employer. Large businesses are more likely to offer paid time off. You’re also more likely to have paid funeral leave as a high-level employee than as an entry-level employee.

Bereavement Leave Changes in California

Funeral and bereavement leave has slowly but surely increased in the United States. Recently, large companies like Facebook have taken steps to make paid leave more accessible. In 2017, Facebook doubled the amount of paid bereavement leave it offered its employees. They increased it from 10 days to 20 days for the death of an immediate family member. The company offers 10 days of paid bereavement for the death of an extended family member.

Additionally, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants in San Francisco offers a three-day bereavement leave for the loss of a pet.  

Getting the Time You Need in California

If you’ve lost an immediate family member, talk to your employer about bereavement leave. Even though paid leave for bereavement isn’t mandatory in California, most employers are understanding.

Your boss or manager may be willing to give you several days off of work. Even if you don’t have a leave policy stated in your contract talk to them. In general, it never hurts to ask.

Bereavement leave is one of the many challenges of guardianship. This is one of the first decisions you'll make as a parent, and it's an important reminder to take your plans and preparations seriously. You can create a free, legal will and plan in minutes with FreeWill. From there, talk to your loved ones about your plans and what they mean going forward.

Disclaimer: The information posted on this site is provided solely for informational and educational purposes and is not legal advice or tax advice. Contact an appropriate professional licensed in your jurisdiction for advice specific to your legal or tax situation.


Sources

  1. Fiegerman, Seth. "Facebook doubles down on paid family leave." CNN. February 7, 2017. https://money.cnn.com/2017/02/07/technology/facebook-bereavement-leave/index.html
  2. "Funeral Leave." US Department of Labor. https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/funeral-leave
  3. "Pay & Leave." US Office of People Management. https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/leave-administration/fact-sheets/leave-for-funerals-and-bereavement/
  4. Shellenbarger, Sue. "The Challenge of Grieving for a Pet at Work." Wall Street Journal. November 10, 2015. wsj.com/articles/the-challenge-of-grieving-for-a-pet-at-work-1447185650
  5. Van Giezen, Robert W. "Paid leave in private industry over the past 20 years." Bureau of Labor Statistics. August 2013. https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-2/paid-leave-in-private-industry-over-the-past-20-years.htm
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