Bereavement Leave Laws in Oregon Explained

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When someone close to you dies, you may find that you have a lot on your plate. You’ll need to attend or even plan a memorial service or funeral (or any other traditional post-death ceremonies practiced in your culture).

If you’re the executor of their estate or their next of kin, you may have to pay bills, cancel utilities, and otherwise settle their financial affairs. This is a lot to ask of anyone, but when you throw in the fact that you’re grieving, it becomes even more daunting.

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So what is bereavement leave? It’s a type of leave (paid or unpaid) that an employee can take when someone they are close to, such as a relative, passes away. Many businesses offer bereavement leave of their own volition as part of their benefits package, but many don’t.

There are no federal laws on the books that mandate businesses to offer bereavement leave. Most states don’t require bereavement leave either. In fact, Oregon is one of only three states that legally mandate that companies must offer bereavement leave to their employees.

As with most types of employment law though, there are several quirks and nuances at play. Read on to learn more about the specifics of how bereavement leave works in Oregon.

Do Employers Have to Offer Bereavement Leave in Oregon?

In Oregon, any business that employs more than 25 workers must provide bereavement leave to any eligible employees.

The terms for this are laid out in two laws - the Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA) and the Oregon Military Family Leave Act (OMFLA). The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) also offers some helpful provisions.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA was established to allow workers to take time off from work to deal with health issues. These health concerns could affect them personally or could affect a close family member. The FMLA applies to employers in all fifty states who have 50 employees or more in the current or prior year. Those 50 employees must be within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite, so if you’re a remote worker, your workplace may not qualify. 

Any employee that has worked for the employer for at least 12 months may be eligible. Those 12 months don’t even have to be consecutive. The FMLA also mandates that the employee must have worked 1,250 hours in the 12 month period directly prior to them taking leave.

The main purpose of FMLA is to protect your job when you’re going through a complicated health issue. With FMLA, you can get up to 12 weeks off from work per year without losing your job, assuming you meet the necessary eligibility requirements. FMLA also protects your group health benefits, so you won’t lose your health insurance. However, FMLA leave is unpaid, so your employer is not required to pay you during those 12 weeks of leave.

Bereavement leave is not covered under FMLA. Only serious health conditions suffered by you, your spouse, your child, or your parent are provided for under FMLA. Unless you experience significant mental health problems in the wake of a loved one’s death, FMLA won’t be helpful when it comes to taking time off work.

Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA) and the Military Family Leave Act (MFLA)

The OFLA makes it even easier for Oregon employees to get leave from work than FMLA does. While FMLA applies to employers with 50 employees, OFLA applies to businesses with 25 or more employees in the current or previous year. FMLA mandates that employees be employed by their company for at least 12 months. It also dictates that they must have worked 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months.

The criteria for OFLA are less strict. The OFLA requires that employees be employed 180 calendar days immediately preceding their leave. Then they must also have averaged 25 hours of work per week during that time. (An exception to this is parental leave, which does not require a weekly average of hours worked for eligibility.)

With OFLA, you can have leave to care for your grandparents, grandchildren, and in-laws. Overall, OFLA is a lot more inclusive than FMLA. Like FMLA, OFLA leave covers 12 weeks per year maximum and is generally unpaid. 

Anyone who qualifies for OFLA but is a member of a military family gets some extra benefits from OMFLA. OMFLA grants 14 days of unpaid leave per deployment for spouses of soldiers when they go on leave or are called to active duty. OMFLA covers employees who have worked an average of 20 hours per week during their employment. There is no minimum amount of time they must have been employed to be eligible. Even if you’ve only been at your current job for a month, you qualify for OMFLA-specific leave.

While OMFLA does not make any provisions for bereavement leave, OFLA does provide up to two weeks of bereavement leave time.  

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How Do You Qualify for Bereavement Leave in Oregon?

Bereavement leave in Oregon allows employees to attend a funeral, make funeral arrangements, or grieve their lost loved one. This leave is limited to two weeks (10 working days) per death and must take place within 60 days from the day the employee learns of the death. If you have more than one family member pass away in a one-year period, you may take up to two weeks of bereavement leave for each family member that dies. 

Bereavement leave is invaluable if you’re handling a loved one’s estate. But it can even give you time to mourn in private, respond to sympathy messages or read books on grief.  Please take note though that bereavement leave does count against any time you might need off through OFLA. If you take a full two weeks off for bereavement leave that will be subtracted from the 12 weeks of leave time provided by OFLA.

Also, keep in mind that there is no rule that bereavement leave must be paid. Your employer is legally allowed to not pay you while you’re on bereavement leave. However, if you have accrued paid time off (PTO), the employer cannot prevent you from using it, and in fact may require you to use it, during your bereavement leave. If you can’t afford to lose the pay, consider using your PTO during your bereavement leave.

Eligibility requirements

To qualify for bereavement leave through OFLA, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must have been with your current employer for at least 180 days before the date you wish to start your leave.
  • During those 180 days, you must have worked an average of 25 hours or more per week.
  • Your employer must employ 25 or more employees in the state of Oregon for at least 20 weeks per year (seasonal businesses may be exempt). 

Giving notice to your employer

With FMLA, you are generally required to give written notice 30 days in advance of going on leave. OFLA is much less stringent in the event of a death or emergency.

It simply requires that employees provide oral notice to their employer within 24 hours of beginning their leave. If the employee cannot communicate this to their employer, an intermediary may provide notice on their behalf.  The employer may require that the employee also provide written notice within three days of returning to work.

Documents and other proof

Oregon law does not specifically spell out what documents may be required to prove there was a good reason for an employee to go on leave. Employers may choose to request something like an obituary, prayer card, or funeral program with the name of the deceased. 

Returning to the workforce

Once you return to the workplace, your employer may ask for written notice to confirm that you were on bereavement leave. This is mostly done from a documentation standpoint or for personnel records. 

Bereavement Leave Legal Requirements 

The death of a close family member is one of the most challenging events in a person’s life. While most states won’t require your employer to give you time off to mourn, Oregon is a notable exception to the rule. It’s nice to think that employers would do the right thing and give their employees time to deal with the death of a loved one.

However, many don’t offer that benefit. Hopefully, more states will follow Oregon’s example so workers can grieve without jeopardizing their employment.

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. “Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA): Family Leave.” Oregon.gov, State of Oregon, January 2011, www.oregon.gov/boli/TA/pages/t_faq_oregon_family_leave_act_01-2011.aspx#OFLAvFMLA

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