What Are California’s Employee Bereavement Rights?

The death of a loved one can feel like you’re being torn into two – with waves of intense, very difficult emotions washing over you at any moment. In the immediate aftermath of such a loss, people need a moment to breathe, be surrounded by others they love, and start the long process of healing. That’s where California employee bereavement rights kick in. California Bereavement Leave violation

As our Los Angeles employment lawyers can explain, California law guarantees most employees up to 5 days of bereavement leave from work for the death of a qualifying family member (spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, domestic partner, or parent-in-law). Employers are allowed to grant it for the loss of someone outside these categories with whom you were close, but they aren’t required to.

The law allows for five days for the death of each qualifying family member. So if you suddenly lose three of your close relatives – even if it happened all at once – you would be entitled to 15 days, rather than just 5. You have three months to use your bereavement leave, but it doesn’t have to be taken consecutively. That is, you could take a day or two immediately after, and the rest of the time to attend calling hours, the funeral, etc.

Bereavement leave can be paid or unpaid; It will be up to the employer’s policy. If the company has an existing bereavement policy that offers fewer than 5 days of paid leave, the employee can receive pay for the number of days in the existing policy, but the rest might not be paid. If there leave isn’t paid, employees can use accrued paid leave to cover unpaid days.

Proof of death can be required within 30 days. Acceptable forms include a death certificate, obituary, or some other written proof of your loved one’s death, burial, or memorial services.  You’re entitled to expect confidentiality regarding these requests. Further, taking bereavement leave won’t adversely impact other types of protected work leave.

Similar to the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), it is against the law for an employer to refuse to hire, discharge, demote, fine, suspend, expel, or discriminate against an employee exercising their right to bereavement leave. They also can’t retaliate against an employee providing information or testimony about another person’s bereavement leave in any inquiry related to the employer’s possible violations of the law.

While the law provides bereavement leave to most employees in the state, there are a couple exceptions:

  • Employees working for an organization with fewer than 5 employees.
  • Employees who have been working for the employer less than 30 days.

California Bereavement Law Rights Already Being Tested

California’s bereavement law just went into effect this year, in January 2023. It’s already being put to the test.

According to SFGate.com, a California warehouse worker is suing tech/logistics giant Amazon after he was fired following two requests for bereavement leave for the deaths of his parents just days apart.

The former employee says the firing was retaliatory and in direct violation of California’s employment law and family leave protections. Plaintiff had worked for more than a year as a picker at an Amazon warehouse in Bakersfield when his mother died. His request for 4 days of bereavement leave was granted. On the third day of his leave, his father died. He filed an additional bereavement request, this one for 3 days. (To be clear: He was asking for 7 days off, but in his case, state law would actually have entitled him to 10 total days.) His employer requested proof of the deaths, and he sent over both obituaries to the human resources department.

The following day, he was told his second bereavement request was denied. A few hours later, he was informed that he was fired.

His wrongful termination lawsuit asks for back pay, front pay, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and medical expenses he incurred for the physical sickness and emotional distress the company’s actions caused him.

Although California is an at-will state, meaning employers don’t need a good reason (or any reason at all) to fire someone, what they are not allowed to do is take adverse employment action against someone in a protected class or who is exercising a legal right. That’s exactly what allegedly happened in this case.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Newport Beach, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

Bereavement Leave FAQ, California Civil Rights Department

More Blog Entries:

How Employers Can Prevent California Workplace Retaliation, June 16, 2023, Los Angeles Employment Lawyer Blog

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