Illinois, Oregon and Tacoma, Wash., all have laws that give employees the right to bereavement leave. Seattle may soon join these forward-thinking states and cities if a measure to extend paid leave to parents who suffer the death of a child is approved. Many are surprised to learn that bereaved parents are not included under the Family Medical Leave Act.

Most workers get just three days off after a child’s death, but Seattle wants to change that

Nearly 70 percent of employers offer just three days of paid bereavement leave after a child’s death — barely enough time to plan a funeral, let alone mourn.

But leaders in Seattle want to do better for grieving parents and are considering a proposal that would extend paid family care leave benefits to city employees when their child dies.

“We want to make sure that city workers, and actually any workers, know that when they suffer that kind of severe grief that we’re going to let them have the benefits that they should have,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan told K5 News this month.

Not just heartbreak

Grieving families suffer significant hardships when a child dies — beyond the immediate pain and heartbreak of the loss. Studies tell us that the death of a child can have substantial consequences for parents.

Research at the University of Texas-Austin’s Population Research Center, for example, has found that the death of a child is tied to a number of health risks for parents, including higher risks for cardiovascular disease, physical disability, dementia and death.

What’s more, their grief and associated psychological and medical issues can limit their productivity at work once they’re back on the job. One study called “The Economics of Grief” found long-lasting impacts on a parent’s income even years after their child has died.

“Studies continue to provide evidence that the greatest stress, and often the most enduring one, occurs for parents who experience the death of a child,” says the National Academies of Science.

FMLA doesn’t cover bereavement

But, in most cases, parents can’t even get the time off work to simply plan a funeral and mourn their child in those earliest days. The Family Medical Leave Act, which lets workers take unpaid leave when a baby is born or to care for a sick family member, doesn’t cover bereavement leave. Some parents risk losing their job if they take off more than the usual three days.

We need to do better.

Thankfully, some lawmakers and corporate leaders are taking action. The topic came up briefly during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on paid family and medical leave on May 8.

Illinois, Oregon and Tacoma, Wash., all have laws that give employees the right to bereavement leave. And some larger companies, including Facebook and Mastercard, offer bereavement leave policies that provide workers with several weeks off after the death of a child.

Now we can add Seattle to the mix. The experience of a city employee prompted the latest proposal there.

‘Bea will be there’

The employee, Rachel Alder, and her wife, Erin Alder, recently shared their story at a Seattle City Council meeting. According to The Seattle Times, their daughter Bea died just 36 hours after she was born. And, because Bea died, Rachel, a city employee, was no longer eligible for the paid leave she would have enjoyed if her daughter had survived, the story says.

“No parent will want to use Bea’s Law,” Rachel said in the Seattle Times story. “But it will be there in the darkest moment when the wheels have fallen off all that seems to be reasonable and right. Bea will be there to help.”

Seattle leaders will consider the proposal again on May 22 during the Gender Equity, Safe Communities, New Americans and Education Committee.

“We want to make sure that city workers, and actually any workers, know that when they suffer that kind of severe grief that we’re going to let them have the benefits that they should have,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who sent the measure to extend paid leave to bereaved employees to City Council. (King5 News)

At Evermore, we’re thrilled to see Seattle moving toward the necessary steps to support grieving parents. In fact, this month, we wrote to Mayor Durkan to applaud the city’s efforts so far for the 20 million bereaved parents — and counting — in the United States.

No policy or proposal can replace what we have lost. But, when a child dies, what happens next can make all the difference. And supporting parents and families in those earliest days of grief is a critical first step toward making an important change.