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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Two fathers started an initiative, the Farley-Kluger Initiative, in 2010 determined to amend the current Department of Labor FamilyMedical Leave Act (FMLA) to include bereavement leave for parents when their child, up to age 26, dies. 

At the present time the FMLA is a federal law that requires companies with 50 or more employees to afford their employees 12 weeks a year of unpaid time off for their serious health condition or that of their children up to age 18, spouse, and parents.  It also covers the employee after birth of a child or adoption placement. There is also a section related to military leave.  
The two men who began this initiative are both authors of books about their own grief journey after the loss of their children.  Barry Kluger’s only child, his 18-year-old daughter, Erica was killed in a car accident in 2001.  Kelly Farley’s daughter, Katie, and son, Noah, both died in infancy within 18 months of each other.  Kluger’s the author of A Life Undone: AFather’s Journey Through Loss.  Farley’s book is called Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back.
After both Farley and Kluger’s lobbying attempts in Washington D.C. there has been legislature introduced in the Senate and the House to make this amendment happen. Currently there is a bill before the Senate.  However Farley stated that he was informed that only about 10% of the bills introduced are ever approved.  The two men have started a petition campaign online in order to get the word back to the legislature that people want this change.
I have mixed feelings about this amendment.  As a parent who was in this position almost 7 years ago my first reaction is that this is a wonderful change and is something that every parent needs.  The early stages of grief after the death of a child are so chaotic and life-altering that an individual’s focus is all-encompassed on dealing with the symptoms of the grief.  As I discussed in my previous post about grief in the workplace there are problems with concentration and memory that affect the worker’s performance and the probability of triggers that cause crying is always there.  This 12-week leave would give the grieving parent time to get past the most critical and intense grief period. 
However I am concerned about the employee whose spouse or parent dies.  These employees may have already been on an FMLA leave caring for the ill spouse or parent and once the death occurs the employee is no longer eligible for FLMA, has only the company’s bereavement time available (usually 1-3 days) and then must return to work.  This can be an awful predicament for an employee who is exhausted from being the caregiver for their loved one for weeks, has been experiencing anticipatory grief (I will discuss this in detail in a future blog) and is now in the full throes of early grief symptoms. 

Then there is the employee whose spouse dies unexpectedly leaving them with young children who are themselves grieving or the employee whose spouse had handled all of the household business and now the employee has to take over all of these responsibilities.  Both of these scenarios require concentrated time for the employee to be able to bring his or her life to a new normal and FMLA bereavement leave would be appropriated in these cases too.  Just as no one grieves the same, no loss is the same.  There is a general consensus that the death of a child is one of the most devastating losses and having experienced it personally I would have to agree.  However I also appreciate the fact that the initial grief after the death of a spouse or beloved parent can be a devastating blow. 
So, should this amendment be only for parental bereavement leave or be opened up to include the same criteria that the original FMLA covers and include spouses and parents?  In my opinion it should include these loved ones.  Most employees can not afford to take time off without pay therefore I do not believe that this will be an overused leave option which is the fear of opening it up to more reasons.

I would be interested to hear other people's opinions of this change in the FMLA.  What do you think? 

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