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Bill would extend FMLA to cover absences due to death of a child

Earlier this month, bills were reintroduced in the U.S. House and the Senate that would amend the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) so that it would protect employees who take time off from work due to the death of a child. The bill is called the Parental Bereavement Leave Act/Sarah Grace-Farley-Kluger Act.

The FMLA currently provides job-protected leave to eligible employees upon the birth or adoption of a child but not the death of a child. Maine’s family medical leave law similarly does not provide for job-protected leave due to the death of a child unless that death occurs in the course of military duty.

The Parental Bereavement Leave Act has been introduced in Congress before but this is the first time that it has garnered bipartisan support in the House with sponsors Steve Israel (D-NY) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ).

“As a father, I cannot imagine coping with the loss of a child. Parents should never have to decide between their job and taking the proper time needed for both themselves and their family. This commonsense, bipartisan legislation would expand the FMLA to protect parents who are trying to provide for their family while facing the excruciating loss of a child,” said Rep. Israel.  

“Expanding the FMLA to cover parents coping with the devastation of losing a child is beyond reasonable and should have been included when the legislation was originally passed. If the law currently covers parents who need to take care of sick family members, then there is absolutely no reason not to include parental bereavement in the FMLA,” said Rep. Gosar.

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) has sponsored the bill in the Senate. “The scariest thought for any parent is having to bury their child, and they shouldn’t face losing their livelihood on top of that,” said Sen. Tester.  “Updating the law to give parents time to grieve is long overdue, and we owe it to them to pass this bill.”

This bill’s introduction in Congress is due, in large part, to the work of parents who have lost children. Grieving fathers Barry Kluger and Kelly Farley have worked hard petitioning Congress to pass this bill.   The Sarah Grace Foundation, named after the late daughter of Marissa and Matthew Weippert, has similarly worked to persuade Congress to introduce this bill.

“We’ve pointed out that death doesn’t care if one is rich, poor, White, Black, Hispanic, Jewish, Christian, Muslim and certainly pays no attention to whether one is Democrat, Republican or Independent,” said Mr. Kluger. “In fact, child loss doesn’t play favorites. But let’s for a moment take compassion out of it and look at the facts. A company trains an employee and invests money and when that employee loses a child, productivity drops, morale lessens and the employee is often fired or eased out and that’s just a waste of money.  American companies have an unwritten pact with American employees and it translates as loyalty, motivation and an employer-employee relationship. It’s about strengthening the fabric of a company, not breaking the weave. It costs employers nothing.”

So far, no member of Maine’s congressional delegation, in either the House or the Senate, has co-sponsored this bill. As mentioned above, Maine law also does not provide job-protected bereavement leave for the death of a child. So, the Parental Bereavement Leave Act would have a tangible impact on Maine workers who lose children.