Currently the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects you for a variety of occurrences, specifically;
Birth of a child
Adoption of a child
Care for the employee’s spouse child or parent that has a serious health condition
This list painfully omits the death of a child, spouse or parent.
In Missouri, if you are employed in the private sector, there are no leave requirements for an employee who loses a spouse, child or parent. However, if you are employed in the public sector, you can receive up to 5 days of bereavement leave, but again, this is provided by Missouri law, not federal law.
So, what does this mean? Simply, this means that if you lose a child, and you don’t show up the next day at work, your employer can terminate you for failure to show up for your shift, there are no laws that protect you. Most people think about this and say, “well, the employer will do the right thing”, and in many / most cases – they do. However, they do not have to, and can terminate you the first day you miss work if you don’t have vacation time.
People often don’t think that this is a big deal – you lose a job, and you can just get another. With one event, you could lose 15 years of raises, vacation days and seniority, and now you are left starting over, at the bottom of the food chain with another company. Further, while the economy appears to be getting better, finding a job is not an easy prospect and can be detrimental to your family and finances.
Under FMLA, however, there are minimal protections. In a nutshell (and obviously the act is more elaborate than this), but FMLA only guarantees that your job (or a comparable position) is held for you by your employer while you are on leave. Additionally, you can be made to use all of your vacation days / sick days prior to using any FMLA time. The biggest issue is that while FMLA protects your job – your salary is not paid during this time (however, supplemental insurance policies can pay a portion of your salary while you are on FMLA leave). In short though, if you have a qualifying event (death of a child is not), your employer merely has to hold your job, and does not have to pay you.
So, what happens when you lose a child? Most of us do not want to think about this, but as a father who lost a child, the unimaginable does happen, has happened, and is much more common than any of us would like to admit. My son was stillborn, but he was the boy in boy, girl, girl triplets. Our two daughters were born alive and had few complications (they are now thriving and almost 5 years old). The thing that haunts me is that there are people out there that have a single child who is stillborn, and they have no protections, no time to grieve and heal – and the grief that comes with losing a child is intense. As newly bereaved parents, we could have easily lost our jobs if we had an employer that followed the letter of the law.
Why is this? Well, there have been several attempts to push legislation through to expand FMLA protections to at least cover the death of a child, however, they have always been defeated. I’m only guessing at the reasons, but the counter argument is that expanding FMLA protections would decrease productivity and unnecessarily impact a business. Further, a person has the potential to abuse the system. Finally, the topic is still taboo, and people simply don’t want to discuss this unimaginable horror that befalls many people – until it hits close to home.
Currently there is legislation being proposed to protect parents that lose a child, and give them time to heal. If you are interested, you can sign a petition here – http://www.petition2congress.com/3937/go/