“Dead Where It Stands”

As many of you know, we (me, Barry Kluger and Jim Boyle) have been working for 3.5 years on Federal legislation to change the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) to add bereaved parents to the list of recipients that could qualify for the benefits set forth in this legislation. What that means is a bereaved parent would be allowed up to 12 weeks of unpaid time (in a 12 month period) without the fear of their employer firing them.

We have had a lot of support from large National Organizations and the many people that have signed our petition (83,000 letters sent to Washington) at www.FarleyKluger.com. We have been to Washington DC on three different occasions to meet with legislators. As a result of our efforts, Senator Jon Tester (MT) had introduced S. 226 – The Parental Bereavement Act of 2013 in the U.S. Senate and Congressman Steve Israel (NY) had introduced H.R. 515 – The Parental Bereavement Act of 2013 (aka Sarah Grace-Farley-Kluger Act) in the U.S. House of Representatives. H.R. 515 has had 43 cosponsors (Congressman) and S.226 has had 13 cosponsors (Senators). Both Bills have been sent to the appropriate committee to be considered for a hearing. At first glance, you would say we have been successful at getting this initiative pushed along and we would agree, to a point.

The reason I am writing this posting is twofold, one is to let you know that we were informed this past summer that these Bills would not be considered for a hearing, basically, they die where they stand. It is unclear at this time if we will pursue this legislation in the next congress. We didn’t exactly have bi-partisan support for this Bill. Almost everyone agreed (when we spoke) that these changes to the original FMLA make a lot of sense. After all, I don’t know too many people that can bury their child on day 3 and then expect to get back to work on day 4 because the company’s 3 day bereavement leave policy has been exhausted. Some of the reasons it didn’t get support are “causing undue stress on American businesses” and “concerns for abuse of existing FMLA”. As far as the abuse goes, you need to produce a death certificate in order to qualify, hard to fake that one.

The second reason I am writing this post is to inform past and future grieving parents how to still receive the benefits allotted by the original FMLA without the fear of losing their job. It’s not an easy process but certainly one that most bereaved parents should have knowledge of in case they need additional time. First and foremost, you have to comply with the FMLA requirements. That means you must work for a company with at least 50 employees within a 75 mile radius. If you meet these requirements, then you have to meet at least one of the following:

  • for the birth and care of a newborn child
  • for placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care
  • to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition
  • to take medical leave because of a serious health condition
  • to care for an injured service member in the family

If you lose a child, you could use either “to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition” (ie: distressed spouse) or “to take medical leave because of a serious health condition”. The key to this is to have your doctor diagnosis you with PTSD, depression and/or anxiety condition. These are all issues that bereaved parents experience and they are a serious health condition. Just because you don’t see the “injury” doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Once the doctor has diagnosed you, they then must be willing to sign the paper work that allows for you to utilize FMLA benefits. Like I tell all of the people that show up to my workshops, if your doctor will not sign off on it, then fire them and find a doctor that will.

I was recently speaking on this topic at a workshop I presented at for The Compassionate Friends National Meeting in Chicago and a grieving dad raised his hand and informed the room that his doctor writes him a letter at the beginning of every year so he can use his 12 weeks sporadically throughout the year as needed without fear of being fired for taking too much time off. I was lucky, my employer allowed me to go part time for almost 3 years in order to deal with the “health conditions” I was dealing with.

There is one thing that you should be aware of, is that when you are diagnosed and treated for one of these conditions, you now have to disclose it on your application for health insurance, life insurance and disability insurance. Many will not cover you and it they do, it will cost you. This is why we were pushing to have the “death of a child” included into the existing FMLA. We should not be penalized for trying to survive the death of child. We just need time to catch our breath and to figure out what has happened to our world.

I should say “I am not an attorney” or “expert” on this subject. I am just sharing with you what I have learned. Please consult an attorney or your HR manager (careful with this one, they still work for the company).

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

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User Comments ( 4 )

  • Hi Kelly:

    I’m so sorry to hear about this, even though I work for one of those American businesses that may have been caused “undue stress” if your bill had been carried forward. I work in Human Resources in the area that manages/administers FMLA and I’m also the one who tracks volume and usage. I can tell you that there is a much greater risk of “abuse” by employees who are using FMLA for a reason other than grieving the loss of a child.

    Your suggestions for how to apply for FMLA in the wake of the loss of a child for your own “serious health condition” or that of an eligible family member are spot on and are the same things I would tell any of our employees.

    And I wholeheartedly agree with your advice to fire your medical provider if they’re not willing to complete the FMLA form with you, and have told employees as much on various occasions (not even related to the death of a child).

    Again, I’m so sorry this didn’t make it through…it’s a much-needed revision to the FMLA and one, in my *professional* opinion (which I believe holds more weight than those of any politician) that would have barely made a dent in the stress my area experiences in managing/administering FMLA.

    • Kelly – Thanks for your thoughts on this topic. Its good to hear from a HR professional to confirm my advice to the grieving parents. I agree with you that it would barely make a dent into the issues you face with the FMLA. It is unfortunate that the abuse of this legislation has led to the hesitancy to make common sense changes/updates to the bill.


  • Kelly,

    That’s a bummer about the legislation dying. Here’s a thought: What about approaching the military as a liason? So many parents suffer when their sons or daughters are killed in the line of duty(just like all of us), but perhaps with the greater public awareness of their losses — and us — that maybe this might be another way into the inner circle.

    Hang in there. Your efforts and emails are always just the right tonic for these black days we all share.


    • John – I like where you’re going on this, but we have already reached out to many of them. The following is a list of the national supporter and many of them are military support organizations. Peace.

      We support from Polly Klaas Foundation, the National Association of Social Workers, American Counseling Association, the Elisabeth-Kubler Ross Foundation, Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), First Candle, The Grief Recovery Institute Educational Foundation, Parents of Murdered Children (POMC), The MISS Foundation, Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, Inc., The JED Foundation, Blue Star Families, Gold Star Mothers and Fathers, The Sarah Grace Foundation for Children with Cancer, The Children’s Bereavement Center of Miami, National Students of AMF, American Academy of Grief Counseling, National Alliance for Grieving Children, Red Means Stop Traffic Safety Alliance and The American Institute for Health Care Professionals, to name a few.