How does FMLA work after a patient's death?
October 27, 2014 6:13 AM   Subscribe

It seems like FMLA leave doesn't account for bereavement time. What, then, do I do, after the person I'm caring for (my father) dies- just pack up and immediately fly cross country and go back to work? What about dealing with his estate?

I'm currently on my first week of FMLA leave, caring for my terminally ill father who lives quite far from me. I understand that I have twelve weeks of leave available to me, but it seems like that's only for me actively caring for him, and not for all the stuff that comes after his inevitable death.

How is this supposed to play out? Do you report the date of the patient's death to your employer and then they just go 'Ok, come on back now'? How does one deal with an entire house full of things and paperwork if one isn't permitted to stay under FMLA? I'm an only child and there aren't many living relatives- and exactly zero in the area my father lives in. I've been trying to trim down and clean up and sell things in the meantime, but there's only so much I can do. Not to mention I feel like I should have some time to grieve afterwards- I might be able to finagle that as my own FMLA leave for psych reasons, maybe?

I will not ask my employer, as they are very inexperienced with FMLA and HR topics in general, and I don't trust them. I feel this is a situation where I should play it safe and quiet before I tell them anything.

Help? I hate that I have to think about this stuff while trying to comfort and care for my ill father.

Quick facts: Employed and live in NJ, father lives in AZ. Been with employer nearly 4 years. Probably a few weeks until he passes, but it's just a guess.

Throwaway email is

Sorry if this question is a little scattered, my brain is quite scattered at the moment.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (14 answers total)
I'm so sorry for your impending loss.

You're correct that FMLA doesn't cover bereavement. Many companies offer a set number of days for bereavement leave (this seems to be administered kind of like jury duty, since it's not something you can necessarily predict much in advance.) People who take time off after that usually do it out of vacation/PTO/personal time.

I understand that you don't trust HR to give you the right information, but there's nobody else who can tell you what your company's policies are about bereavement.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:23 AM on October 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Is there a company handbook? Normally bereavement leave is explicitly mentioned.
posted by desjardins at 6:34 AM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
My company handbook says the employer allows for 3 days off for bereavement of immediate family members, including parents (generous, huh?). This will not be enough. I also don't have any PTO left as it was used for FMLA.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 7:25 AM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does your employee handbook say anything about leave of absenses (that are not for FMLA)? Depending on how large your company is, the administration of such a leave might be outsourced to some benefits handling company, and you would need to get approval from your manager. Some people where I work take these for things like visiting their native country because we are not allowed to take more than 2 weeks consecutive paid vacation, so they take a personal leave for a month and go visit family in India.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:31 AM on October 27, 2014

Outside of FMLA, PTO, and bereavement leave, take unpaid leave if your company allows it. Which is basically the same as FMLA anyway, just with no Federal guarantees.
posted by hwyengr at 7:31 AM on October 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sometimes companies will let employees donate PTO to other employees who need it for bereavement, if you have any sympathetic friends at work. Unfortunately the labor laws in this country don't guarantee humane treatment.
posted by bleep at 7:40 AM on October 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

I just went through this a few months ago, though I didn't take leave through FMLA because my dad had full-time caregivers in his home so I was able to work from home during the day. My company also offers 3 days of bereavement leave for immediate family members. I took that plus 3 additional days of PTO. My company does allow employees to take unpaid leave if they run out of PTO/sick time, so you should look in your employee handbook (if there is one) and see if unpaid leave is a possibility. I know that sucks, but it may be the only option.

Dealing with the estate and the house: hire cleaners and/or work with a local charity who will accept donations. If you don't want to keep most of the stuff in the house, many charities will do free pick-ups as long as the donation includes furniture. Fortunately, most of the estate stuff can be done remotely. You just have to sign some paperwork, so make sure you have a local attorney on hand (likely the one who drew up your father's will and/or health care proxy stuff) to help you through the estate stuff. I am the executor of my father's estate and was able to get the paperwork all filled out within a couple of days, and received my letters testamentary within a few days. Everything else (banking, bills, etc.) all has been done remotely - I just mail in a copy of the letters testamentary and a certified copy of the death certificate and that's it.

I am sorry you are going through this. It is hard. Please feel free to MeMail me if you want to vent or ask questions.
posted by bedhead at 7:44 AM on October 27, 2014

You will probably need to take unpaid leave. If your employer balks at that, you should definitely pursue a separate FMLA leave based on your own emotional state, as you suggested.

Also - don't let them shortchange you on the bereavement days. Some places start counting from the day the person dies - but if you wake up in the morning and your father is still alive, you are caring for him that day and it falls under your FMLA - bereavement leave should begin on the next uncovered work day. Some other places say "3 days" and mean that if leave starts on Friday, then the weekend uses up your remaining 2 days and you should be back at work on Monday. If your employer doesn't specify calendar days, it should be implied that they mean 3 working days, which you may need to fight for.
posted by trivia genius at 7:50 AM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
Handbook does not say anything about add'l unpaid leave. Company has been reluctant to allow for unpaid leave as a general rule. Guess I'll just have to request it and know my employment status is on the line in doing so.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:22 AM on October 27, 2014

Do you do anything that you could possibly pick up part of your duties again remotely while you're wrapping things up? I recently had a death in the family and two family members were working from home for basically the week following. There's never really enough time off to cover for that sort of thing, but it might help. I'm so sorry that you're having to go through all of this, I hope it all works out as well as it can under the circumstances.
posted by Sequence at 8:36 AM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you know if you're actually the executor? If you are in fact the executor of your father's estate, is there any way you can get him to amend (not sure you can do this with a codicil) his will to name someone else who would happily do it for a fee rather than jeopardize their job? This might save you some time and let you apply your bereavement time for actually just mourning. Really sorry about your dad and wishing you well for taking this on.
posted by resurrexit at 11:21 AM on October 27, 2014

I had the same situation, and I was incredibly panicked about it. But when I got through to my company's HR they were incredibly accommodating and basically just gave me as much time as I wanted. When I got back they settled it with a mix of paid and unpaid time off. I guess many people have been in this situation and people can be surprisingly flexible when the time comes.
posted by miyabo at 2:33 PM on October 27, 2014

And incidentally "as much as I wanted" turned out to be just over 2 months. Really, they were fine with it. And I work for a company that has a tiny HR group that's outsourced to some third party and I had never even talked to them previously.
posted by miyabo at 2:40 PM on October 27, 2014

Borrowing against future leave may be possible as mentioned by others. Since you have 4 years experience I would hope they would consider this an option. I am sorry that you're going through this.
posted by NikitaNikita at 7:00 PM on October 27, 2014

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