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April 20, 2020 Employment Law

Family Leave for a Death: Understanding the Law in Virginia

There are few things more challenging than dealing with the death of a family member. Employers are often in a position to help people get through a difficult time. Many employers in Virginia offer bereavement leave to their staff members in order to help them deal with the situation. 

However, it is important to note that employers are often not always required to do so by law. In this article, our Virginia leave of absence lawyers provide an overview of the relevant state and federal laws on employment leave for family bereavement and we explain how employers/employees can best protect their rights. 

Virginia Does Not Have a Family Bereavement Leave Statute

Family Leave for a Death: Understanding the Law | Pierce Jewett, PLLCAs a starting point, employers and employees should know that Virginia does not have dedicated state-level family leave or bereavement leave—paid or unpaid. In other words, Virginia does not require employers to offer family bereavement leave. Employers in the Commonwealth must comply with applicable federal regulations, but are largely free to set their own family leave policies. 

The Family Medical Leave Act and Bereavement Leave

Family Leave for a Death: Understanding the Law | Pierce Jewett, PLLCFederal law does require some private employers in Virginia to offer job-protected, unpaid leave in certain circumstances. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an employee may be eligible to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave to deal with certain family or medical issues. All private employers with at least 50 or more employees in Virginia are covered under the FMLA. 

However, it is important to emphasize that FMLA leave is not technically a form of bereavement leave. An employee may not always be eligible to use FMLA leave after a loved one’s death. Instead, FMLA leave is reserved for caring for a critically ill family member or dealing with a personal health matter.

To be clear, it is possible that an employee will be granted FMLA leave after the death of a spouse, child, or parent. However, that type of leave would have to be for an employee’s own medical issue—meaning mental health care, grief counseling, etc.—and not for ‘bereavement’ as a general concept. 

Employers Should Create and Implement Clear Policies

Family Leave for a Death: Understanding the Law | Pierce Jewett, PLLCEven though the law does not require it, many employers do offer bereavement leave, and there are good reasons for offering it.  It is important, however, that Virginia employers implement the leave policy in a clear and even manner. If family leave and/or bereavement leave is available—whether paid or unpaid—there should be a straightforward process for how employees can request leave and what information needs to be provided to the company or organization. As Virginia does not mandate bereavement leave and federal law only has limited requirements, employers are most likely to run into problems when they have unclear or unevenly applied policies. 

Get Help From a Virginia Leave of Absence Attorney Today

Family Leave for a Death: Understanding the Law | Pierce Jewett, PLLCAt Pierce / Jewett, our Virginia employment lawyers have the skills, experience, and training to handle the full range of family leave cases. For a completely confidential initial consultation, please contact us today. We have law offices in Norfolk and Richmond and we represent employers and employees throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. 

CALL NOW: 757-624-9323

Disclaimer: This article contains general information. It should not be taken as legal advice. No attorney-client relationship has been created. If you have specific questions about your rights or your options, you should speak to an experienced lawyer about your individual case.