Can I take FMLA leave when a parent dies?

Question

My mother died after a brief, but serious illness. I took a couple of days off last week to be with her in the hospital during her final days. Now that she has passed on, I will need time off work to wrap up her affairs. To start, I will need to plan her memorial service. Then, I will need to close her bank accounts, pack her belongings, sell her apartment, and handle a bunch of other practical matters. I have tried to do some things online and by phone, but I'll have to physically be present for a lot of it. She lived in New York City, which is a three-hour plane trip from me. Can I take leave from work to handle these practical and ceremonial things? I've used most of my vacation time already, so I'm hoping I have a right to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Answer

Unfortunately, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) doesn't extend to bereavement leave. The FMLA does give eligible employees the right to take unpaid time off work to care for a family member with a serious health condition. However, that time is only for providing care. If the family member passes away, the right to take FMLA leave ends.

In 2014, the first state law requiring bereavement leave went into effect. Oregon now includes two weeks of bereavement leave in its state family and medical leave statutes. This leave includes time off to plan and attend a funeral, to handle practical matters related to the family member's death, or simply to grieve and mourn the loss of a loved one. However, if you are a three-hour plane ride from the Big Apple, then you are clearly not in Oregon. Other states may follow suit; that's how state leave laws seem to progress. But it won't be in time to help you.

Check your employer's policies: Some offer bereavement leave or unpaid leaves of absence for personal reasons. If your employer's policy doesn't, and you have no other accrued leave you can use, talk to your manager. Explain the circumstances and ask for time off work to wind up your mother's affairs. If you are able to work remotely, offer to put in some hours while you are away. If you are willing to accept unpaid time off, and you can be a bit flexible about the timing, your manager may be willing to work with you in this time of need. It never hurts to ask.

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