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Oregon Becomes First State to Require Bereavement Leave

Effective January 1, 2014, Oregon became the first state in the nation to require employers to provide bereavement leave.  The new provision, an addition to the Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA), requires employers with 25 or more employees in the state to provide up to two weeks of unpaid time for bereavement.  Additional time must be granted if multiple family members die within the same year, up to a maximum of 12 weeks of family leave per year under the OFLA.

While many employers already provide bereavement leave voluntarily, the Oregon law is significant in that it mandates employers provide this benefit.  In recent years, municipalities, states, and the federal government have begun to mandate employee benefits that have traditionally been voluntary.  Examples of this are the New York City and Connecticut sick leave laws and the federal Affordable Care Act.

Only time will tell whether bereavement leave becomes mandatory in more jurisdictions.  Even if it is not mandatory, employers may wish to provide this benefit, perhaps including some paid time, for employee relations purposes.  Employers should ensure their policies do not discriminate on the basis of a protected class.  While this may seem obvious, what happens in states that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  In these states, employers must ensure bereavement is afforded for same-sex spouses or domestic partners on an equal footing with opposite-sex spouses.  Similarly, if the bereavement policy allows an employee to take time off for the death of an in-law relation, it should apply to comparable relations for same-sex spouses or domestic partners.

Brody and Associates regularly advises management on complying with the latest state and federal employment laws.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.