Is bereavement leave also FMLA leave? Not usually

Bereavement leave for employees who suffer a death in the family may be part of your benefits package, but it isn’t necessarily covered by the FMLA. Employees who take bereavement leave aren’t usually entitled to FMLA leave and reinstatement.

One big exception: Employees who are so traumatized by the death that they can’t perform their jobs or require medical treatment may be suffering from a serious health condition. In that case, they are entitled to FMLA leave for their own condition.

Recent case: Larry Hoban worked in maintenance at a nursing home. When he got a call at work informing him that his brother had died, he left for the day. Because the nursing home had a bereavement-leave policy, he was allowed to take almost a week off.

The trouble began when he was expected back and instead called a supervisor. He told her he couldn’t return yet because he “didn’t have time” and “had to get a lawyer” to deal with estate issues.

Hoban was fired and he sued, alleging he was entitled to FMLA leave for his brother’s death and his own emotional reaction to it. But the court dismissed the case. Because Hoban never told his supervisor that he was suffering emotionally, the nursing home was never alerted to a possible FMLA absence. Plus, there was no evidence Hoban was seen by a doctor or otherwise incapacitated. (Hoban v. WBNCC Joint Venture, No. 06-13142, ED MI, 2007)

FMLA Compliance D

Final note: Had Hoban called and told his supervisors he needed medical help, he might have triggered his employer’s responsibility to determine whether he needed FMLA leave for a serious condition.