Colorado's Bereavement Leave Laws Explained

Updated

Legal editor, attorney

Everyone goes through both joys and losses. You may have heard of or even used medical, maternity, or disability leave.

But what happens when a close family member or friend passes away? It may surprise you to find out federal law doesn’t regulate time off for losing a loved one. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

Bereavement leave refers to paid or unpaid time off to deal with the death of a family member. You can use this time to attend a funeral service, plan, or heal from the pain of a loss. It’s a lesser-known type of leave that employers aren't always equipped to handle.

Colorado doesn’t require your employer to offer bereavement leave. Could you get fired for taking time off to grieve? What if your employer isn't prepared to provide the support you need? This guide can help you navigate this tricky but not uncommon topic. Parse through the legal jargon to get practical advice on how to approach your employer.

Do Employers Have to Offer Bereavement Leave in Colorado?

Bereavement leave policies depend on the state, the size of your employer, and the number of employees. It is usually short and unpaid. Current laws don't allow enough time for employees to leave town and come back to work.

There is no policy in Colorado that says employers need to offer time off if your loved one dies.

Federal laws on bereavement leave

There are no federal laws requiring bereavement leave in the United States, but this doesn’t mean you are out of options. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that permits you to take up to twelve weeks of paid time off for family or medical reasons. Small businesses with less than 50 employees don’t qualify, and there are certain restrictions on which employees qualify.

You may be able to use this law to your advantage when discussing time off with your employer. While the FMLA doesn’t cover bereavement leave, it can cover the consequences you experience as a result of your loss. Keep in mind that under FMLA, you may use the time off for your own medical conditions resulting from the death of your loved one. 

If you are diagnosed with depression or physical ailments from the death of a loved one, you would qualify for FMLA leave. Also, If another loved one develops a serious health condition as a result of their loss, it may entitle you to paid leave. You may use the FMLA to care for other family members in distress like your spouse, child, or parent.

State of Colorado’s laws on bereavement leave

Oregon is one of only three states to pass formal laws to deal with the death of a loved one. It allows for up to two weeks of unpaid leave per family member. 

Some states have limited laws for certain employees or situations. For example, Maine allows bereavement leave for spouses of active members of the Armed Forces and the Coast Guard. Illinois allows for up to two weeks of unpaid leave for the death of a child.

In Colorado, It is up to the employer to decide the bereavement leave they want to offer. Some industries are more likely to offer leave than others. Public sector employers may be more likely to have flexible policies. Employees of the state of Colorado may request up to 40 hours of paid bereavement leave. California allows for up to three days of paid leave for state employees. Individual leave policies can depend on your full time, part-time, or contractor status.

In 2018, the governor of New York vetoed a law asking for twelve weeks of paid bereavement leave. Opponents argued that a long leave puts stress on small business owners. Another nearly identical bill was reintroduced shortly after the veto and is making its way through the state legislature. In any case, bills are introduced every year to establish and expand state laws.

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How Do You Know If You Get Bereavement Leave Through an Employer?

You can refer to your employee handbook to find out if your employer offers bereavement leave. You will often find policies under the sick, family, and medical leave sections. Consider that most time off policies only apply to full-time employees. 

A thorough leave policy states who the policy applies to (yourself or the types of family members). It includes compensation and what your options are for unused time off. Pay careful attention to whether you need to give advance notice for time off and who you may need to notify. If you’re not sure, it never hurts to ask your employer. 

Here are some tips on how to bring up bereavement leave with your employer: 

  • Compassionate communication: The first step is to explain your situation. Remember to mention any logistics like traveling out of state that may impact how many days off you need. Your employer is human too, and there’s a chance that they’ve been in your shoes before. 
  • Write a letter: Clarity is key when approaching employers. Be sure to include the date and time for your request, and state if your loved one is a close family member or friend. For longer requests, it can be helpful to include details like your role in planning the funeral. An email or letter that explains your situation is valuable especially if you run into a dispute.
  • Offer alternatives: Compromise with your employer for longer leaves. Can you work remotely one day a week or continue to answer emails? Maybe you can work on a side project. Your workload will decrease while you have time to process your grief.                                              
  • Company culture: Before you begin the conversation think about your company’s values. Do they place a high value on quality over quantity? Is there already a generous leave plan in place? Chances are bereavement leave can be rolled into an existing policy. 

If you’re starting a new job, consider negotiating your leave policy when you are first hired. Employers may expect high performing candidates to communicate their needs. 

With honest communication and a clear plan, there’s a high chance you can get your leave request approved. We all experience loss--it provides comfort to know your employer has your back when that time comes.

What family members are typically Included in the bereavement leave policies?

You're typically allowed bereavement leave for the death of an "immediate family member." Bereavement leave policies may define immediate family members differently. Oregon’s bereavement law expands to include the following family members. Other states may follow by example. According to Oregon’s law, immediate family is your: 

  • Children and spouses children 
  • Spouse
  • Parents
  • Step-parents
  • Sisters
  • Brothers
  • Grandparents
  • Grandchildren

Your spouse’s family (mother-in-law, father-in-law, etc) also counts as  “immediate family.” Your employer may also approve family or friends not covered by this definition. 

Is bereavement leave paid or unpaid?

Since employers create policies at their discretion, bereavement leave policies vary. In recent years, paid time off is expanding.  

In 2017, Facebook led the way in changing bereavement leave policies. The company doubled its paid leave policy. They offer twenty days to grieve immediate family members and ten days for extended family members. Other corporations like Amazon allow for a standard three paid consecutive days off. 

If your employer's sick leave policy is paid then your bereavement leave may be too. Federal employees entitled to 13 days of paid sick leave each year that they can use for the loss of a family member.

Do you have to submit proof of death to get bereavement leave?

Employers can ask for proof of medical leave, and bereavement leave isn’t any different.  You may be required to provide proof of a relationship with your loved one.

Your employer can ask for obituaries, funeral programs, or a death certificate. Ask your employer before your leave what type of proof is required so you can be sure to collect it at the funeral.

Final Thoughts: Compassion is Growing  

Unfortunately, bereavement leave is problematic around the world. Similar to the U.S., Canada offers 5 days of bereavement leave to Federal employees, and allows the individual provinces to create laws regarding all other employees. 

The UK provides leave for an emergency involving a dependent, which may include the death of a dependent, but has no clear bereavement leave law. Some employers may argue a leave policy could be abused or they may not be sure how to navigate federal and state laws.

An honest discussion with your employer doesn’t have to be difficult. Remember to be your own advocate, bring up federal regulations, and explain your needs. With the help of a supportive workplace, you can begin the path to healing and focus on how you’d like to remember your loved one into the future.

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. “Time off for Family and Dependents.” UK Government, www.gov.uk/time-off-for-dependants
  2. Zisook, Sydney and Shear, Katherine. “Grief and bereavement: what psychiatrists need to know.” World Psychiatry, June 8, 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2691160/
  3. “Family and Medical Leave Act.” U.S. Department of Labor, www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/
  4. “Family and Medical Leave.” State of Oregon, www.oregon.gov/das/Policies/60-000-15.pdf
  5. “Bereavement Leave.” Government of Canada, www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/labour-standards/reports/bereavement-leave.html
  6. “Bereavement Leave.” State of California, www.dgs.ca.gov/OHR/Resources/Page-Content/Office-of-Human-Resources-Resources-List-Folder/Personnel-Operations-Manual/Bereavement-Leave
  7. “Child Bereavement Leave Act.” State of Illinois, www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=3724&ChapterID=68
  8. “Funeral and Bereavement Leave Policy.” INCA Community Services, www.s3.amazonaws.com/scschoolfiles/108/0000_-_funeral_and_beravement.pdf
  9. “Pay & Leave.” U.S. Office of Personnel Management, www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/leave-administration/fact-sheets/sick-leave-for-family-care-or-bereavement-purposes/
  10. Dogulas, Genevieve. “New York State Democrats Push for Bereavement Leave, Again.” Bloomberg Law, March 21, 2019, https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/new-york-state-democrats-push-for-bereavement-leave-again
  11. Miller, Stephen. “Facebook’s Generous Bereavement Leave Sets a High Standard” Society For Human Resource Management, February 9, 2017, www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/facebook-bereavement-leave.aspx
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