The answer to whether bereavement leave is required in the state of California is "no." While many of the state's employers do provide their employees with bereavement leave, they are not required by state or federal law to do so. There have been attempts to mandate this type of leave in California, but none have been successful.
No California Bereavement Leave Requirement
California is known for having a very employee-friendly legal environment that holds the state's employers to much higher standards than federal law requires. For example, the state has very generous Paid Family Leave (PFL) and State Disability Insurance (SDI) programs that help employees who have babies or face difficult medical situations. However, California does not have a law that requires employers to provide bereavement leave, nor is there a U.S. federal requirement for this type of leave. Oregon is the only state that requires bereavement leave, and it does not have to be paid.
California Bereavement Leave Law Attempts
There have been a few efforts to enact a state-specific bereavement leave law in California, but none have been successful. The attempts that have come closest are detailed below.
- Assembly Bill (AB) 2999 is the most recent attempt that made it out of committee to a vote. This bill would have obligated California employers to let employees take up to 10 days of unpaid leave following the death of a family member. The bill was first introduced in February 2020 and passed by the Assembly in June of the same year. It was then referred to the state's Senate, but it did not advance. AB 2999 became inactive in November 2020.
- In 2007, Senate Bill (SB) 549 was actually passed, but it never became law. In early 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill because he felt that mandatory bereavement leave would be redundant because so many businesses already had their own policies in place. If enacted, this legislation would have provided California employees the right to take four unpaid days off from work due to the death of a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, sibling, grandparent, or grandchild.
Bereavement Leave: What Most Employers Offer
Even though there is not a state law in place, the reality is that members of the workforce, in California and elsewhere, sometimes experience the loss of a loved one and need to take time off from work as a result. Many employers have policies in place that allow employees to take time off when a close family member dies. These policies usually include time for individuals to prepare for, travel to/from the place where the funeral will be held, and attend the service.
Paid vs. Unpaid
Bereavement leave policies in California sometimes, but not always, allow for a few days of bereavement pay. Employers typically also allow employees who need time off due to bereavement to utilize their accrued paid time off (PTO), sick leave, or vacation time. Since California requires sick leave for employees who work more than 30 hours per week, many of the state's workers have sick leave available to use.
Who Is Covered?
Since California doesn't require bereavement leave, it is up to the employers that offer bereavement leave to decide who is covered. Most companies that offer this kind of leave allow employees to use it when they lose a child, spouse, parent, or sibling. Some may also extend bereavement leave to domestic partners, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, and/or parents-in-law. Check your company's policy to find out if your situation is covered.
Companies that have bereavement leave policies often require documentation of the loved one's death, such as a copy of the obituary. When extended leave is taken to attend a funeral, the employer may also request documentation of travel and/or attendance. For example, this could be provided via a funeral program or verification that the employee received bereavement airfare to travel to the funeral.
Example Bereavement Policy: California University System
The California State University system has a very clear bereavement policy in place for its workers. It includes up to five paid days off (time allowed depends on the job category within the university system) for the funeral of an immediate family member or significantly close relative. This includes two days for the funeral events and three days for travel, assuming the funeral is more than a 500-mile round trip. This policy is for all full- and part-time eligible employees. The time off does not go against any personal, sick, or vacation days that are accrued.
Bereavement Leave vs. Family and Medical Leave Act
In 2004, California became the first state in the union to offer Paid Family Leave (PFL) under conditions outlined in the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Qualified employees receive up to six weeks of Family Temporary Disability Insurance over a one-year period to care for a family member who is sick. However, this does not cover bereavement leave. Eligible workers can take time off to care for a family member who is sick or dying, but leave is not mandated once that individual passes. At that point, an employee who needs time off will need to request bereavement leave (if offered), or use another type of leave for which they are eligible.
Request Leave Through HR
While bereavement leave is not mandatory in California, it is very common for companies to offer this type of leave as a company policy. Check your company's handbook to get familiar with your employer's policy. Before you decide to accept a job, it's a good idea to inquire about the company's leave policies ahead of time so that you're not surprised after you join the team. Unfortunately, at some time in their lives, everyone will attend the funeral of a loved one. It is best to know what to expect at work when this tragedy happens. Most human resources departments should have this information readily available.