One unfortunate consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is the need for some employees to take time from work due to the death of a parent or other close relative who passes away due to the virus. We have had questions from employers faced with requests from employees tied to the Family and Medical Leave Act following such deaths. While the employee may be entitled to time away from work in such circumstances, these requests generally do not fall under the FMLA’s protections.
In previous cases, federal courts have held that FMLA leave rights only apply to a close relative with a “serious health condition.” Death is not considered such a condition and is outside the scope of the FMLA. This holds true even if the employee is initially entitled to FMLA leave to provide care for the medical condition resulting in the relative’s death. That death terminates FMLA rights, and the employer is entitled to end the leave at that point.
In some cases, employees may be eligible for FMLA leave due to their own medical condition that arises after a relative’s death, such as depression. Most employers offer either formal bereavement leave benefits or a discretionary personal leave to deal with the aftereffects of a relative’s passing. However, if faced with a request for leave based on its FMLA policy, the employer can deny this request and direct the employee to the appropriate means for obtaining time away from work.