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You have a right to miss work for a family member's funeral

Most employers do not like chronically absent or tardy employees. In fact, many companies have specific policies in place that penalize people who repeatedly call into work or show up after starting time. After a set number of offenses, people could end up suspended or even fired from their jobs.

As a professional, you want to be as reliable and responsible as possible. Generally, that means showing up to work unless there is a serious concern, such as a recent illness or death of a loved one, that prevents you from doing so.

However, you should know that you have the right to miss work under certain circumstances. There are federal laws that protect your right to take leave in specific situations, including immediately after the death of a family member. Your employers should allow you to take time off, even if it is unpaid, to attend a funeral and grieve.

Federal law allows for leave after a death in the family

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) outlines the rights of employees to take unpaid leave in certain situations. During that leave, their positions with their employer should receive protection. In other words, your employer cannot terminate or demote you simply for taking legally permissible leave.

The FMLA allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of leave within any given year. Most people know that this law applies to the birth of a child or the adoption of a child. Fewer people understand that it also applies to the death of a loved one. This kind of leave, called bereavement leave, protects your right to grieve in private and attend the funeral of your loved one, even if you must travel to do so.

Grieving is critical for your ongoing mental health

Losing someone you love is emotionally devastating. It can have a profound impact on your overall mood, behavior and even personality. It can take people months or even years to fully process the loss of someone they are close to, such as a parent or spouse.

Many people like to return to work after a brief period of leave following a loss. Work is a distraction that can help keep people from perseverating over a death. For others, more private time may be necessary. No two people process difficult emotions the same way. That is why you have the right to take up to 12 weeks of leave. Your employer should react with compassion and understanding if you have to invoke your rights under the FMLA.

Some employers still penalize staff for taking bereavement leave

Unfortunately, many businesses and managers fail to understand the value of their human capital. They are more concerned with having solid attendance than with ensuring the well-being of their staff. That can lead your employer to bully you into not taking leave or to penalize you if you do.

If you find that your employer will not approve the leave, you may need to contact human resources. If you still cannot obtain the leave you need, you may risk losing your job. However, provided that your job is covered under the FMLA, you may have legal recourse if you get fired for taking bereavement leave.

Make sure you document all of your communications with your supervisor or human resources contact. That documentation can help prove that your employer refuses to comply with the federal law protecting your right to leave.

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