My name is Abby. I am an intern with LOSS as I work towards a Masters in Social Work at Case-Western. I am also a suicide loss survivor, having lost my husband in September, 2015.
When someone you love has died by suicide, returning to work may seem impossible.
What may seem even more impossible is needing to return to work after only three days bereavement time. While the United States has no federal bereavement leave policy, the standard rule of thumb is three days bereavement. What?! Three days ? Are you joking? Oh, and that’s not all, in the state of Ohio, private employers are not required to give any bereavement time off.
Unfortunately, three days bereavement leave is standard practice in the United States, Canada, and the UK. It is often left to the employer to determine this policy; some employers offer no days, while some have no set leave allowance. The Japanese automaker, Toyoto, treats the death of a loved one as an illness that the worker has experienced and has no set time limit to return to work. In Tokyo, many public utilities offer two weeks bereavement leave, more than triple the standard leave practices in the United States.
But… FMLA covers me, right?
A common misconception is that the Family Medical Leave Act allows those bereaved to take 12 unpaid weeks off from work. Not quite. FMLA allows 12 unpaid weeks each calendar year off from work if eligible employees meet one of the following reasons:
● for the birth and care of the newborn child of an employee;
● for placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care;
● to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or
● to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.
Let’s look at the last point. Is grieving considered a serious health condition? It may depend on your employer.
Thankfully, my employer was great to me!
When my husband died my workplace let me take as much time as I needed, through a mixture of unpaid and paid leave. I was also able to come back to work with a flexible schedule. I will be forever grateful for the compassion of my administration.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. Maybe not. Either way, employees should not have to rely on the generosity of their employer. What should we do?
At least a few companies are making strides in this area.
Recently, Facebook changed its bereavement policy to 20 days of paid time off for the death of an immediate family member and 10 days off for an extended family member. Following the sudden death of her husband, Sherly Sandberg, COO of Facebook, was able to change the policy, realizing three days was ridiculous, especially after a sudden, unexpected death.
Unfortunately, not all of us are in such a position of power, which is why I believe there needs to be a federal standard, allowing the bereaved more time off and flexible work schedules when returning to work.
What have your experiences been with returning to work? What are your thoughts on the standard 3-day bereavement policy?
If you or someone you care about are struggling with suicidal thoughts please get help. 911 | 1-800-273-8255 |text “4hope” to 741741