Illinois Expands Leave Protections for Employees

We are pleased to report that on Friday, July 29, 2016, Illinois enacted the Child Bereavement Leave Act, which took immediate effect as new law, expanding leave protections for Illinois employees by allowing qualifying employees to elect ten days of unpaid bereavement leave upon suffering the death of a child.

This law is a major stride forward in the employee rights realm because there is currently no federal law that requires employers to give time off for bereavement leave of any kind, even the death of a child, as counterintuitive as that may seem. Many employers, on their own accord, choose to provide bereavement leave or personal time off policies that allow for their employees to take bereavement leave, but no federal laws mandate that employers have these policies.  The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) does require that employers with 50 or more employees allow employees time off in instances of serious illness or to become a parent, but even that law does not specifically address bereavement leave.

So, even though it seems automatic to our human nature that a parent suffering the tragic circumstances of the death of a child should be afforded, at the very least, unpaid leave and without fear of retaliation from the employer, the federal government and many states fall short in this area. Thankfully, with the passage of the Child Bereavement Leave Act, the Illinois legislature has decided to take a leap and to fill this gap in protections for Illinois employees.

The Act requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide 10 business days of unpaid bereavement leave upon an employee’s election where the employee suffers the death of his or her child. These circumstances include, allowing employees to take leave to (1) attend the funeral or alternative to a funeral of the deceased child, (2) make arrangements necessitated by the death of the child, or (3) grieve the death of the child.

Under the new Act, “child” includes biological children, adopted or foster children, stepchildren, as well as legal wards or children of persons standing in loco parentis (in place of the parent).

The Act requires that bereavement leave be taken within 60 days after the date on which the employee receives notice of the death of the child. The Act also requires employees who elect such leave to provide at least 48 hours of advanced notice of their intention to take bereavement leave, unless doing so is not reasonable and practicable.

Importantly, the Act also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who request or take bereavement leave. If an employer violates its obligations under the Act, employees can file a charge with the Illinois Department of Labor, who may seek damages and penalties against the employer.  The Act also allows employees to file suit in the circuit court against offending employers.  The Act imposes a 60 day deadline from the date on which a violation occurs for employees to file a charge with the Department of Labor or a civil action in court.

Leave laws are extremely important to employees to set baseline expectations for what type of leave is appropriate and the manner in which it should be obtained through the employer.  This law is a welcome change to help alleviate the concerns that employees may otherwise face without legal protections or clear expectations when attempting to balance their work obligations and personal and familial ones during the tumultuous situation of losing a child.  Illinois has certainly made progress with its focus on child bereavement leave with the enactment of this Act, and the hope is that leave laws, including those specifically targeted to bereavement leave, continue to expand and develop to further protect employees.  One way to start, perhaps, would be to expand bereavement leave protections to employees who suffer the death of a spouse, parent, or immediate family member.