Current legislation recognizes the importance of taking a leave of absence from work during critical family life events such as the birth or adoption of a child or when a family member is experiencing a “serious health condition” and is in need of care. In order to attend to these matters, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers employees protections against job loss and allows three months in a year of unpaid leave. However, an especially tragic incident for families, the death of a child, is not covered under the FMLA, and many grieving parents are arguing it should be an allowable use for such leave.

Introduced on May 12, the Parental Bereavement Act of 2015 seeks to amend FMLA to provide unpaid leave to parents for the death of a son or daughter. Parents who have experienced the death of a child believe this new option under FMLA could have been very helpful in allowing them time to heal and take care of their families. They also feel this change has the potential to further protect parents in the future. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), whose daughter passed away in 2008, noted, “When faced with an unimaginable tragedy like the loss of a child, workers shouldn’t have to worry about losing their job too.”

Also on the record as the “Sarah Grace-Farley-Kluger Act,” the bill is named after a 12-year-old girl, Sara Grace whose death from leukemia left her father feeling obligated to return to work just five days after her funeral, and Kelly Farley and Barry Kluger, parents who struggled with balancing the loss of their child with the imminent demand of returning to work.

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) noted, “This legislation is about common decency, and providing American workers with the basic right to care for, and when necessary, grieve for their loved ones.” Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) in support stated, “This issue transcends political lines.”

Backers of the bill state that similar efforts have been introduced twice before, but did not move forward. This time around more support is being shown, as the Farley-Kluger Initiative has started an online petition urging lawmakers to amend the FMLA to include the death of a child.

Although many employers do grant some form of bereavement leave, employment laws do not mandate time off, leaving such policy at the discretion of the employer. For employers that do provide bereavement leave, guaranteed time off is often less than one week, which is minimal when considering the emotional toll the loss of a child can bring. As Farley noted, “Most of the time, people say that their employers have been pretty understanding, but there are also the employees who say their employers have been, ‘Get back to work or your job is gone.’”

In speaking with a parent who lost a child, Farley learned this parent’s employer’s comment was, “The war goes on, and I need you back at work,” after their child’s death.

This law will protect grieving parents from these types of harsh practices and prevent them from experiencing the loss of their employment. Allowing parents to take time to care for themselves and their family members in the wake of their child’s passing is both a moral and economic necessity that Congress must recognize.

Sarah Grace-Farley-Kluger Act seeks unpaid leave for parents grieving loss of a child | Learn more: v/ @Campign4Kids
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Want to learn more? First Focus Campaign for Children is a bipartisan organization advocating to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions.

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